Sunday, 29 July 2007

Lasagne and the Boy Wizard

I have a confession to make! I spent the day yesterday reading the latest Harry Potter book. I have read all the others and I know they are very readable and enjoyable. I bought the book Thursday, after ascertaining that the copies I was aware of had a list of people in line to borrow them, and I knew Saturday was free for reading. So I emerged at 5.30pm, finally knowing what happened to the boy wizard!

The price for the luxury of reading all day was that I didn’t have time for other things I had hoped to fit in my day like swimming and grocery shopping. I had good intentions but I was determined to finish the book so I wasn’t reading it in drib and drabs over the next few weeks. Reading a book all at once is so satisfying until the end when you wish you still had chapters of reading ahead.

So it was that around 6, I finally had decided what to cook for dinner and headed off to the supermarket. I had been existing on biscuits and cheese on toast during the day so I needed something easy and full of vegetables. I decided to make a lasagne that I had found on the web some months ago. Emily B had posted a recipe for Sauceless Garden Lasagne. She was inspired by too many tomatoes and zucchinis in her garden. I don’t make lasagne that often because I struggle to find the time and energy to make the pasta sauce, the white sauce and then wait for it to cook. So I was attracted to this recipe which seemed quick and simple.

This is a great sauceless lasagne recipe. I tried another similar recipe where you don’t need to cook the sauce but it had ricotta and didn’t taste fantastic. This one is really tasty. I think the interesting mix of vegetables and the balsamic vinegar are a big part of the success of it. I really enjoyed the rich tang of vinegar. I got to the supermarket too late to buy basil (if there had ever been any yesterday – a note alongside the basil said that some herbs were unavailable due to drought). So I used some store-bought pesto sauce. It worked well but I would be interested to try fresh basil and oregano at some stage.

Best of all, it didn’t have the heavy taste I often associate with lasagne. The vegetables were just cooked and still fresh tasting. The one drawback was the amount of time it took to chop all the veggies. Emily B did more slicing than dicing so she would probably have spent less time chopping. In fact, I am not sure it was that much quicker than making pasta sauce. But it was worth it.

Sauceless Garden Lasagne
(adapted from Emily B at
Serves 6

1 medium zucchini, diced
½ red onion, chopped finely
2 portobello mushrooms, chopped
1 scant cup grated tasty cheese
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons chilli olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp pesto
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
150g fresh baby spinach, roughly chopped
300g no-cook lasagne noodles
12 roma (plum) tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Lightly coat a 23 x 35cm baking dish with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix together the zucchini, red onion, mushrooms, garlic, tasty cheese, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, pesto, sugar, salt and pepper. Add spinach and stir to coat with mixture.

Place a layer of tomatoes and a layer of mixture in the bottom of the prepared pan. Then place a layer of lasagne noodles. I did another 2 layers of tomato, vegetable mixture and noodles and then a final layer of tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. Make a layer of tomato slices over the noodles. Emily says to be generous with the vegetable mixture as it shrinks when cooking but mine was a larger pan than hers and I could have used more. She had lasagna noodles on the bottom and a layer of tomatoes and vegetables and cheese on top which I might try if I make again.

Bake for 35 to 60 minutes in the preheated oven, until noodles, and vegetables are tender. I had it in 60 minutes and found I needed it covered with foil for the last 20 minutes because it had browned enough but I think I needed the vegetables as well as tomatoes on top to help cook the lasagne noodles.

On the Stereo:
Listen, Listen: an Introduction to: Sandy Denny

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Quick and spicy noodles

This is a weeknight dinner that I thought looked quick and easy. Most of the ingredients were in my kitchen - all I had to buy was spring onions and accompanying vegetables. It is one of those recipes that I only noticed recently despite the many times I have poured over my Anne Marshall cookbook in hope of inspiration.

Recipe books are like that. I read them so many times and yet depending on mood and available ingredients, some days they surprise you with a recipe. I sometimes start novels a few times before I race through them. I think recipes are like this too. When I was a student we called this the reciptivity theory - which is sort of a bit like Hemmingway saying if it feels good, it is good, but in this case it is a matter it is right if it feels right at that moment in time (aah, student days when we had time and energy for such discussions)! Anyway, sometimes I am just not ready for recipes and then one day I find that they are just what I want and need and can do. So it was with this recipe. After lurking in the shadows for years, it jumped out at me.

I was attracted to the unusually addition of tahini in a spicy Asian sauce which did indeed add a certain creaminess which would probably be welcomed by those with nut allergies. The recipe has cashews but I used the chopped peanuts that I have had hanging around the pantry for some time, but it would be equally tasty without nuts. I added mushrooms and carrot which sort of disappeared in the sauce but no doubt added some flavour. It probably could have a bit more spices – Anne Marshall calls for 2 tablespoons each of garlic and ginger but as I don’t usually measure either garlic or ginger this way, I suspect I underdid it. E still added Tabasco sauce (and he even added some tomato sauce so he is just the hoi polloi!)

Best of all, it was pretty quick. Monday night I served it with Brussels sprouts, baby spinach and corn on the cob. Tuesday night, I served it with a variety of stir fried veggies (carrot, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, red capsicum, snowpeas) and tonight I had the leftover stir fried veggies with rice. I love leftovers during the week!

Spicy Noodles
(adapted from Anne Marshall’s The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook)

1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp chilli paste
4 cloves crushed garlic
1 tbsp finely grated ginger
2 stalks spring onions, thinly sliced
100g button mushrooms, sliced
1 carrot, grated
2 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 cup vegetable stock
250g Chinese noodles (use rice noodles for gluten free)
Handful chopped peanuts or cashews

Stir fry chilli, garlic and ginger in oil for about 1-2 minutes over medium heat. Add spring onions, mushrooms and carrot and stir fry another 2-3 minutes. Add chilli sauce, tahini, soy sauce and stock and stir another 3-5 minutes. Meanwhile cook noodles in boiling water and drain. The recipe says to serve noodles in a bowl and then pour sauce over but I omitted to read that bit and mixed them together before serving. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts.

On the Stereo:
Greatest Hits: Happy Mondays

Monday, 23 July 2007

Mulled Apple Juice for a Midwinter Birthday

It was my brother Andy’s birthday yesterday so my family gathered at my parents’ place for lunch. My mum decided she would do a Christmas in July lunch. The idea of Christmas in July, is that it is cold and rainy outside and we snuggle indoors to enjoy a traditional Christmas dinner in the middle of winter just like our ancestors would have done in the Northern hemisphere. A big roast and pudding feels so right in the middle of winter.

We need the rain but it has come down too often when I have been on my bike lately. So it seemed doubly unfair yesterday that it was a sunny winter day that didn’t feel at all Christmassy. However, when the kids got restless, we were glad that they could run outside and play.

Not only did mum manage to make a yummy roast of chicken, ham, roast veggies, cauliflower cheese and green veg, but she made three desserts! A plum pudding with custard as is traditional at Christmas. A self-saucing chocolate pudding which is Andy’s favourite (and E recommended it with custard). And a sponge cake with lemon filling for my brother’s birthday. Even without the meat and the sponge cake (I don’t like lemon filling) there was plenty of good food to satisfy me.

My contribution was to make a mulled apple cider. I have made mulled wine occasionally but thought a non-alcoholic version might be more widely acceptable. The kids didn’t touch it but most of the adults sampled a small one – you will see in my picture that we didn’t fill the glasses too much. A little went a long way.

Most of us were impressed. (I was surprised to hear Francesca refuse a drink because she doesn’t like cinnamon after tasting cinnamon chewing gum as a child!). The combination of cloves, cinnamon and orange are so evocative. My brother was reminded of winter in Ireland. It took E and I back to the German Market in the Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh at Christmas where we would buy mulled wine and stollen. It spoke to us of howling winds that chill you to the bone, frosty pavements, gardens covered in snow and huddling inside in front of the gas fire and some good British soaps!

The recipe I used, appropriately enough, was from Rose Elliot’s Vegetarian Christmas.

Mulled Apple Juice
(From Rose Elliot)

1 litre apple juice
1 orange
6 cloves
1 stick cinnamon
Sugar to taste

Stick cloves in the orange and slice the orange in thin slices. Place orange, cinnamon and juice in a medium saucepan. Gently heat for 30 minutes. Serve hot. I think Rose intended it to be served with slices of orange but we didn’t do that. I always find it gets in the way, and besides I sliced the orange too thickly for that. The sugar is to sweeten it if needed, but we never bothered with it. I think it served about 8-10 with small glassfuls.

On the stereo
Primal: the best of the Fire years, 1983-1992: Pulp

Sunday, 22 July 2007

It’s a long way to the shop if you want a sausage roll

I think it is an Australian joke to sing 'It’s a long way to the shop if you want a sausage roll' to the tune of the AC/DC song 'It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll'! It might have been sung about vegetarians.

There are lots of vegetarian sausage rolls in the shops but I struggle to find good ones! The best I ever had was in Cranks vegetarian restaurant in Covent Garden, London. Unfortunately, this specialty long ago fell off their menu. I can’t think why. But the memory lingers. This is the sausage roll I have always aspired to imitate in my own baking. One of the joys of baking is being able to make foods we love in memory of those we can no longer find anywhere outside our own kitchens.

I decided to make sausage rolls for a kid’s birthday party yesterday. It was organized by my sister Francesca for her partner’s little girl, Maykaylah. Fran is an organizer extraordinaire. She sends emails, draws up Excel spreadsheets and searches the net for ideas. She said there would be sausages, hamburgers and sausages rolls. Of course, my family is great about me being vegetarian and so Fran had got some veggie sausages for me but we planned to cook them inside so they didn’t cook in the meat fat on the barbecue.

But when I heard my mum was making sausage rolls, I thought it would be easier to make vegetarian sausage rolls than to have a separate cooking of veggie sausages. (The logistics of being vegetarian aren’t always easy.) So I made my sausage rolls and then when I arrived, I found my mum had made vegetarian sausage rolls for me. I should have known! She had even scored lines on them with a knife for easy identification.

After all this palaver, I felt for my little celiac niece who desperately wanted some Twisties (cheese corn snacks). It is hard sometimes to be different from everyone else. I feel a pang when I attend catered events and there are hot pastries and I am meant to pick through the soggy sandwiches to find which are free of meat. I don’t feel at all tempted to eat the meat but I hate having second rate food when everyone else has something wonderful. So it is always a treat when I am out and can partake of the sausage rolls. And I am lucky to have a family who look out for me.

The theme was Jungle Party and it was held out the back in the huge shed. Although it was sunny enough for people to sit outside. There was music and games and jungle juice (cranberry juice, orange juice, soda water, chopped strawberries and chopped pineapple) in the shed. And once Steve had fired up the barbie, it had a table laden with barbecued meat, salad and sausage rolls. Later the table held cupcakes (which I made!), jellies, fairy bread, and a birthday cakes. There was even a home made piñata hanging off the clothes line full of treats. A kids party to remember! Maykaylah was beaming with pleasure.

I ate my mum’s sausage rolls at the party and then went home and had my sausage rolls for dinner with salad. Now I couldn’t eat them day in day out but as a vegetarian, it is happy days when there is an abundance of vegetarian sausage rolls so I wasn’t complaining. (But I did put the remainder in the freezer.) The recipe for the ones I made is below, but it is one of those recipes where it is just a matter of using whatever is at hand.

Update Nov 2009 - found the lyrics to the whole Long Way to the Shops if you Want a Sausage Roll parody. Also have started making Liz O'Brien's Sausage Rolls more regularly - they are like meat sausage rolls but have oats, cottage cheese and eggs or can be made with tofu for vegan versions. Highly recommend them.

Vegetarian Sausage Rolls
(makes about 25-30 small sausage rolls)

5 small carrots, grated
1 medium zucchini, grated
1 cup grated cheese
1 cup dried breadcrumbs
1/3 cup ground almonds
1 egg
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp tomato paste
1-2 tbsp tahini
½ cup water
Generous grinding of fresh black pepper

450g puff pastry
Egg to brush on the pastry

- Mix all filling ingredients and check seasoning. The mixture should be fairly stiff so you can shape it into a sausage with your hands.
- I use ready rolled puff pastry which comes in sheets that are 25 x 25cm. I cut each in half and used 5 of these 25cm x 12cm strips of pastry. I put a 5cm wide strip of filling down the middle – I use my hands to shape it into a sausage shape.
- With your finger or a pastry brush, use water to moisten the long side of the long side. Roll the pastry over so it overlaps and seals with this moistened side.
- Use a knife to score where you plan to cut them (they can be as long or short as you want) and brush with beaten egg.
- Bake for 20- 35 minutes at 220ºC and cut into smaller pieces. (I baked 20 minutes, cut them up, cooled them, and when I was ready to eat them put them in a moderate oven for about 15 minutes.)

On the Stereo:
Flood: They Might Be Giants

Friday, 20 July 2007

Hubert the Hog’s Head

We saw the new Harry Potter film last night. One of the things I love about the movie was the dining tables groaning with puddings of all kinds. These are the sort of puddings that I think our spirits yearn after as a link with our past, but our stomachs would probably rebel against as too sickly sweet! I thought it was very British that we saw them eating lots of meat and pudding but not the pumpkins that grew outside Hagrid's hut.

Harry Potter made me think about eating rich decadent food and I decided it was time to pull a wee friend, Hubert, out of my archives (I mean archives in a loose sense – but I do happen to have digital photos of this magnificent midwinter meal, and I would like to share this recipe!). Hubert was a vegetarian hog’s head who starred in a grand feast that would not have looked out of place in Hogwarts dining tables.

I own one of the classic 1970s vegetarian cookbooks, the Book of Tofu. It has some wonderful drawings of faux meat, including a tofu hog’s head. This seemed to be the ultimate faux meat experience and my friend Yaz decided he wanted to seek out one. But in fact, the idea of eating faux meat horrified me.

Then we decided to hold a Christmas in July dinner a couple of years ago and Yarrow’s vision was to have a vegetarian hog’s head in the style of a medieval feast. I found it gross searching the web for images, but at least we had decided it wouldn’t taste like meat. Instead we were going to use nutloaf and puff pastry. I have to give most of the credit to Yaz for his creative vision.

So we made a large quantity of nutloaf (any recipe would do but if you want a recipe, you could check out this one I made in June) and moulded it around an ovenproof pudding basin, with a flattish square of nutloaf joined at one side to represent the bottom of the snout. A small round nutloaf was also cooked to represent the top of the snout. We baked it til it was lightly browned.

Then we used puff pastry, basted with egg, to cover it to form a crackling-like skin. We cut out small holes for eyes and filled them with a slice of stuffed black olive (with the stuffing taken out) and a bit of glace cherry in the middle of the olive). The little round nutloaf was attached to form the top of the snout. You can see on the photos that the snout was covered by cutting a circle of pastry and cutting two small holes in it like nostrils – then a long thin strip was wrapped around the snout so it looked like a cylinder. We wanted the mouth to have an apple in it so we used some metal tongs to lever it open while it cooked. Yarrow did some triangles for the ears and folded down one slightly to give a bit of character. These were baked separately and then attached with a toothpick

As the hog’s head came together it was starting to look quite real and so we named him Hubert. We became quite fond of him. When we served dinner, he looked majestic with an apple in his mouth and surrounded by crispy roast potatoes and sprigs of parsley. It was really hard to carve him up and eat him but he did taste delicious.

It was a couple of years ago so I am a bit hazy on baking times and amounts but if you ever want to amaze and horrify meat eating friends, I would recommend you try this. It’s fun! It’s unusual. And it makes a far better impression than a breast of tofurkey!

PS - On the Sacred Earth site, Kat Morgenstern writes that 'the pig signifies fertility and the apple is a symbol of regeneration and renewal.' To read more fascinating stuff about festive food traditions (and see the featured pic of Hubert) go to the article on Festive Foods.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Orange Soup for Orange Days

I am lucky enough to work in an office where most of our artwork is hired from an art collection and every few months the artwork changes. It means that just as we are beginning to stop seeing the pictures, they change. At the moment I have a gorgeous bright orange piece of art beside my office door. And every time I wear in my orange cardigan, one of my colleagues comments on how well I complement the picture.

It just shows what a long way I have come from the days when I hated orange with a passion (I even had to be convinced to buy the orange cardigan instead of a purple one!). I say this in introduction to this soup as this is one of my current favourites that I make on a Sunday – or during the week if I can’t get myself organized on a weekend – and then put in my little tubs in the freezer for work lunches. I love the bright orange of this soup which comes from the pumpkin.

It is the sort of soup you can put anything in, although I focus on the orange for this one. Onion, carrot, celery, potatoes and garlic are my base vegetables. Often I put in creamed corn. My tin of creamed corn in the pantry had morphed into a plain old tin of corn kernels on Sunday night which was disappointing but corn is still good and adds to the orange. Cauliflower adds great texture and flavour.

I think I put a bit much salt in this time – a bit of honey might have helped – but the velvety texture of the pureed pumpkin is still lovely. At other time, I put in whatever I have, as the mood takes me, even once putting in a tin of peaches that had sat in the pantry way too long. As in most of my cooking, I generally try and put in lots of vegetables for interest and because variety is the best way of getting a good range of nutrients. This sort of soup is low in fat and helps get more vegetables in my diet!

I made this soup on Sunday night while my pie cooked. It will last me over two weeks of lunches at work. So now you can imagine me in an orange cardigan, near an orange picture with my orange soup!

Orange Soup
(enough for 10 lunches)

1 onion
2 cloves garlic
5 small carrots
3 sticks celery
3 small potatoes
1 kg pumpkin
½ cauliflower
300g tin corn kernels
2 tsp veggie salt (less would be ok, and maybe preferable)
Lots of black pepper

It is really just a matter of chopping up lots of veggies and adding them to the stockpot as I go, which takes most of the time. I start off with about 1 inch of water in the bottom of a large stockpot, and on medium high, cook onion, garlic, carrots and celery about 10 minutes. I keep adding veggies til most of them are in the stockpot and add enough boiling water from the kettle to almost cover the veggies (I like my soups on the thicker side). I think I let it simmer about 10-15 minutes. The I blend with a hand held blender.

On the Stereo:
Vauxhall and I: Morrissey

Mushroom Yoghurt Pie with Spinach Crust

I wanted to be inspired by Bastille Day on the weekend but, honestly, I don’t cook a lot of French food. It always seems too meaty or too rich. So I thought: I am always coming across tempting tart recipes, so maybe this was the reason I needed to make one - a tribute to Bastille Day. I did a reccy of my cookbooks for tarts and pies. The recipe I kept coming back to was an old favourite from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest: Mushroom Yoghurt Pie with Spinach Crust. Actually, I don’t think it is at all French!

This is a pie I have made many times, in share houses and for E. I think it originally appealed to me because it has a nicely coloured base and it didn’t have a pastry that I had to roll out and bake blind etc etc. Another reason I don’t bake lots of tarts is I don’t like making pastry. But this is just some spinach and flour pressed into a pie base. The filling is quite simple flavours, without the richness of lots of cream and eggs. I like the lightness and slight sour taste of yoghurt which is enhanced by the lemon juice.

I’d recommend the Enchanted Broccoli Forest for different sorts of pie crusts as interesting alternatives to ordinary pastry – nut crust, golden vegetable crust, mashed potato crust etc. And Mollie gives a ‘quiche formula’ for those who want to be able to make a quiche with whatever they have on hand.

I changed the recipe slightly – used frozen spinach instead of fresh, mozerella on top instead of cheddar and smoked paprika instead of regular paprika – but mostly I followed Mollie.

Mollie says it takes 2 hours to prepare, including the base. I think she is probably right (maybe a little less), so it was a nice one to make on a lazy Sunday night for tea on the knee in front of the telly. I served it with a simple salad of baby spinach, tomato, red pepper, cucumber and avocado. And there were leftovers. A couple of pieces were eaten on Monday and another couple are in the freezer.

Actually, I was going to have one of my leftover pieces tonight but instead I went to an opening of an interesting exhibition of needle and syringe cultures and the food there was so good I didn’t need dinner. It had everything about syringes and needles: from diabetics, to HIV to Trainspotting to cake decorating!

Mushroom Yoghurt Pie with Spinach Crust
(from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest)
Serves 6

Spinach Crust:
¾ lb finely chopped spinach (I used 250g box of frozen chopped spinach)
3 tbsp butter (I think I used a bit less)
¾ cup unbleached white flour
¾ cup wheat germ
¼ tsp salt
A dash of nutmeg

Mushroom Yoghurt Filling:
1 tbsp butter
1 chopped onion
½ tsp salt
12 oz mushrooms (I think this is 400g which is what I used), sliced
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp plain flour (white or wholemeal)
1 egg, room temperature
1 cup firm yoghurt, room termperature
Lots of fresh black pepper
½ cup grate cheddar cheese
¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
Extra cheese and paprika for topping

To make the crust:
- Melt butter in a large heavy skillet or medium-large saucepan. Fry spinach til just wilted and remove from heat. Add remaining ingredients and mix well
- Tip mixture into a greased 23cm pie pan, and use your fingers to push into the pan. This took me a little time and patience of moulding it to fit the pie dish.
- Bake 15-30 minutes. I like a crispy crust and baked it 30 minutes til it was starting to turn golden brown.

While the pie crust is cooking, start on the Mushroom Yoghurt Filling:
- In a medium-large saucepan (or Mollie’s skillet) fry onions in butter til soft (5-8 minutes).
- Add mushrooms and lemon juice. Cook over medium heat about 5-8 more minutes.
- Sprinkle flour into mixture, stirring frequently. Cook another 5-8 minutes while stirring a lot (and don’t get distracted with pie crust coming out of the oven like I did because it gets quite thick and can brown on the bottom). Take off the heat.
- Beat together egg, yoghurt, pepper, cheese and parsley. Stir into mushroom mixture.
- Spoon filling into pie crust (it is ok if it is hot) and sprinkle with extra cheese and paprika. Bake in 350ºF oven for about 30 - 50 minutes – I think it took me 50 minutes to get it nice and golden on top like I like it.

On the Stereo:
Wide Eyed and Dreaming: Sea Stories

Monday, 16 July 2007

Sesame and Lemon Bread

One of E’s work colleagues has been bringing him lemons from her tree at home. Lemons keep appearing in the fridge (even though I usually keep them in a fruit bowl).

I think lemons are wonderful for bringing flavour to lots of sweet and savoury cooking but I just couldn’t eat anything too lemony. I have worked in offices where lemon tart is regularly brought in for birthdays and other celebrations. When chocolate cake is brought in, I would struggle to resist a piece but I just am not interested in a lemon tart. As a child, when my mum baked desserts most nights, I never ate lemon pudding, lemon tart or lemon meringue pie.

So I am always on the look out for recipes that might use a decent amount of lemons. Enter Mollie Katzen’s sesame and lemon bread. Quarter a cup of lemon juice seemed a lot but it actually only got me through about 2 lemons. Tahini and lemon is a classic pairing that seems so right.

It is years since I made this bread. Actually so long that I begin to wonder if I ever made it at all or if it was just friends making it and me eating it. No matter, I’m sure I helped at least. I grew up with a mum who baked bread so I learnt to stick my finger in the dough and check if the indent stayed there as a way of checking the bread had risen enough – or did the indent close over? Now I will have to check with my mum. Anyway, I learnt enough to know it was fun to stick my fingers in bread dough but you might have guess I don’t do it any more. Nevertheless, I was lucky to grow up with my mum kneading dough and taking freshly baked loaves of bread out of the oven. She now uses a bread machine a lot and I am in awe of the way she doesn’t really need to follow a recipe. I hope I can be that confident with bread making one day.

Winter weekends are great for baking bread. The heater is on so it is so easy to find a warm spot, and great to have any excuse to put the oven on and fill the house with the aroma of baking. And bread doesn’t demand in the way of cakes. It waits so patiently. It allows time to read the paper and make phone calls and bring in the washing. When my mum rang as I was about to punch down the dough I just placed the damp cloth back over the dough and left it while I chatted. If it had been cake, I couldn’t have just left it and relax.

If you are new to bread baking, The Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen is an excellent companion. Mollie explains in a friendly and entertaining way about bread dough, complete with hand drawn pictures (for example in her guide to kneading she warns ‘remember you are guiding the dough, making suggestions to it – not forcing it, tearing it, or otherwise employing intimidation’). Her affection for the dough is appealing. She does have methods that I am not accustomed to. She puts about half the flour with the yeast and water and leaves them to rise before what for me is usually the first rise but she says this helps with the amounts of wholemeal flour she uses. She also recommends kneading longer than other recipes I have used recently but once I got into the rhythm of kneading it is quite soothing (especially with something good on the stereo on repeat so you don’t need to change the cd with doughy hands). I think it says a lot about bread making that there really aren’t too many ingredients but the instructions can take some time – mine will be much briefer than Mollie’s, I promise.

I can recommend this bread to the novice and expert alike. My main caution is when you toast the sesame seeds, don’t get distracted because they burn easily. I had a few moments of anxiety about killing the yeast but the bread rose anyway and I had a delicious loaf come out of the oven just in time for dinner. The nutty richness of tahini is the prominent of the lemon and sesame but both are subtle flavours in a delicious loaf which I thought had a certain denseness I enjoy and was a little disconcerted when E said how pleasingly light it was. He is right, I guess (but looking at the recipe I am a little dubious that I added the right amounts, although I didn’t get quite all the flour recommended). But I like the roasted sesame seeds which give it an interesting texture.

Sesame Lemon Bread
(from the Enchanted Broccoli Forest)

2 pkts (2 tbsp) dry yeast – I had a little less but it was ok
1 cup luke warm water
A drop of honey
2 cups unbleached white bread flour

The Mix:
½ cup tahini
¼ cup honey
½ cup hot water
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
2 tsp salt

½ cup toasted sesame seeds
1¼ cup unbleached white bread flour
¼ cup wheatgerm (Mollie suggested substituting some wheatgerm for flour so I did)
1 ½ cup wholemeal flour

Make the Sponge: Mix the water, yeast and honey and sit about 5 minutes. Yeast should be a little frothy. Mine wasn’t as frothy as I expected but it still rose. Add 2 cups flour and beat in with a whisk or a fork (which I used). It makes a very moist mixture. Cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place 30-60 minutes (I only did 30 minutes as this seemed a bit superfluous anyway).

Add the Mix and remaining ingredients: Mix all the ingredients listed under the mix in a separate small bowl. Beat the mix into the sponge til well combined or ‘merged’. Now Mollie suggests kneading in the flour but I found this mixture way too moist to start kneading – I think I managed to stir in about 2 cups of flour/wheatgerm and the toasted sesame seeds (which seemed to do not harm to the yeast when I added them hot). Then I started kneading in more flour and didn’t get quite all the flour in but this may have been because I misread the amount of water and put in ¼ cup instead of ½ cup! I still found this incorporation of the flour slow work.

Knead-Rise-Punch-Rise: Once all the ingredients have been incorporated, knead for 15-20 minutes. Mollie says you can’t knead too much by hand but you can underknead, so I just timed it and did about 15 minutes. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise til doubled in size (about 1 hour, or more if your mum rings!). Punch down the dough and knead a minute or two. Mollie says it makes 2 loaves but I thought they were smallish loaves. Cut dough into two pieces. Place dough in greased bread tins or in a circle on a tray (I put sesame seeds on the bottom of my bread tray). Cover with wet cloth again and let rise another 30-40 minutes. Mollie said under an hour, and I asked my mum and she was equally inscrutable so I think I did about 40 minutes.

Bake: Place bread tins or trays in a preheated 375ºF oven (if you are into preheating – I don’t always preheat because I have a gas oven, but while the bread is rising you have plenty of time to remember to preheat if you don’t get too involved in the paper or blogging or whatever takes your fancy!). Bake about 30-40 minutes. I just left mine in 40 minutes because I got distracted cooking dinner and it did look quite dark on top but actually was still a nice softish crust. And it was hollow when tapped, as cooked bread should be. Take out of tin and cool on a rack. Mollie says you should wait at least 10 minutes before cutting it. I’m not sure I managed to wait that long!

On the Stereo:

Set List: The Frames

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Lazy Fry-Up Brunch

Lazy morning with no plans! Leftover olive and rosemary bread from Dench bakery! Mushroom and tomato that needs to be used! Fry up!

E is feeling poorly so it has been a quiet weekend. When I lived in Scotland with him, we often visited his folks who would make him a fry up of eggs, bacon, fried toast and potato scones. I can’t quite manage this – fried bread just seems way too much grease for me, and I never have bacon in the house, although I do make potato scones occasionally. But when I have time and ingredients, I like to make us a fry-up.

Today I fried up sliced mushroom, chopped tomato, a leftover chopped-up vegetarian sausage, a sprinkle of flax seed and some salt. I served it with baby spinach leaves, avocado and lemon juice. E also has a fried egg but this is out of my comfort zone because I don’t like the taste of eggs. I always feel a reasonably competent cook til it comes to boiling an egg – and frying an egg is only marginally easier for me. But between the two of us we manage it.

Served up with the olive bread, it was a most delicious brunch – as good as most which I have in cafes. All without even having to leave home.

On the Stereo:
Don’t Try This At Home: Billy Bragg

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Dench bread and Dukkah: simple pleasures

It is Bastille Day and I was all prepared to cook something almost French but I got distracted and didn’t end up cooking. Some days life is like that!

I headed over Gertrude Street, Fitzroy way today. I cycled along that way for work a few days ago and regretting not having the time to stop and check out some interesting looking galleries. If you are local and want a recommendation, I loved the photography by Penelope Richardson at Dianne Tanzer Gallery.

En route to Gertrude Street, I stopped at Dench Bakery. I love a good bakery that does dense interesting bread and Dench is my most recent discovery (109 Scotchmer Street, North Fitzroy Victoria 3068. Ph: 03 9486 3554). I am yet to stop there for brunch or cake but will do so soon, I hope. Last time I got bread there, it was a fantastic pumpkin loaf full of chunks of pumpkin and covered with roasted pumpkin seeds. Today I bought an olive and rosemary bread. The bread comes in a rustic looking loaf, dusted with flour and full of plump olives. But I am not sure I detected the rosemary.

So with the heady smell of fresh bread wafting to me from the back seat of the car, all I wanted for dinner was to eat bread and cheese and fresh vegetables. Sometimes it is the simple pleasures that are so hard to beat. I am sure the French would understand.

This sort of meal really makes me appreciate my vegetables. They really need so little attention to taste (and look) good. All I did for this meal was cut up the wonderful dense bread, some vintage cheese, cucumber, tomato, red pepper, avocado and season the vegetables with some fresh black pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. The closest I got to cooking was grilling some zucchini slices under the grill. So easy, so satisfyingly delicious.

I have also had a tin of Egyptian Dukkah at home which I bought at the Vic Market weeks ago and keep forgetting about. So this was the perfect time to bring it out to meet this wonderful bread. I bought the dukkah for E after he was most impressed at friends, Kim and Jo, serving it as an appetizer weeks ago. He was as appreciative today and dipped both bread and vegetables in it. The ingredients in the dukkah are so simple and yet so delicious: sesame seed, hazelnuts, coriander, cumin, salt and pepper.

Lastly I will tell you about the small dishes in which I served the dukkah and olive oil. I used to love it when my mum took down a bowl and told me who gave it to her and I equally love the history attached to some of my kitchenware. These dishes I bought an a little antique shop in a village called Lindfield in East Sussex (south of London) when I was doing carer work for an elderly woman. I remember that the bank teller remembered me after one visit and the guys in the butchers talking about the ducks on the pond. Yes, it was one of the rare occasions I had to go into a butchers – I had the trauma of having to buy and cook the old dear a steak. Thankfully I was not there too long, but I have since read that Brett Anderson from British band Suede grew up there, which pleased me. So these small dishes don’t just look attractive but they are full of memories.

On the Stereo:
Twenty-Four Hour Party People soundtrack: various artists

Vegetarian Bolognaise – new life for leftovers

If you’ve seen my last few posts, you will see that I had a busy time of it last weekend with baking. So this week has been a low key week for cooking Leftovers have played a starring role. I have appreciated having my frozen macaroni cheese and also took my leftover chunk of nutroast from the freezer.

Once I had defrosted my nutroast, I decided to use it in one of the easiest and yummiest ways – a vegetarian version of spag bol. I also had some roasted fennel mixture in the freezer and in the fridge was a huge wedge of pumpkin which had been bought - but not used - for pizza on the weekend. One of the benefits of a day working from home meant I could work at the laptop while roasting chunks of pumpkin in the oven.

I grew up always eating a mincemeat bolognaise sauce with only two vegetables in it – onion and tomato (and maybe garlic). When I moved out of home, I remember finding it a revelation that one of my housemates made it with finely chopped carrots. Now I think the more vegetables the better.

This sauce is actually one that I have made many times in many guises, and rarely check recipes when I make it. Here are a few suggestions.
  • Onions - it can be made with or without frying onions in the oil first – sometimes I do and sometimes I just stir fry the onions in a little hot water before adding everything else. 
  • Tomatoes - tinned tomatoes, passata (sieved tomatoes), tomato paste.
  • Vegetables: Almost any vegetables can be added, but some of may favourites are mushrooms, carrot, capsicum, zucchini, pumpkin.  Other vegetables that work include celery, beetroot, fennel, eggplant, parsnip, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, spinach, leeks, sweet potato, and peas.  Leftover roast vegies are great.
  • Seasonings - I often use a balance of sweet and salty (eg maple syrup and soy sauce) but the seasonings depend on the sort of sauce I want and my mood: promite, vecon, tahini, mustard, chilli, soy sauce, stock, black pepper, pesto, lemon, red wine, herbs, smoked paprika, maple syrup, Worcestershire sauce, French lavender salt.  A good meaty combination is red wine, seeded mustard and promite.
  • Protein (optional) - I also like to add a protein – nut roast is one of my favourites – when chopped up, it has the thickening qualities of mince (but without the gristley texture). I also sometimes put in lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, crumbled tofu or crumbled tempeh or any leftovers on hand.

A great way to get rid of leftovers and anything which has hung around the fridge or pantry too long. In fact I think I might chop up my frozen stuffed eggplants for a veg bol in the not too distant future.

The first night I made it, I served it on brown rice. I think it took me about as much time as it took for the rice to cook. On the second night we had it on pasta. Both nights cheese or nutritional yeast flakes were added to it. E and I agreed that this batch actually could have done with a bit more seasoning. I didn’t take photos til we had it as leftovers and I thought 'this is good enough for blogging'. So there are just some dodgy photos of it with pasta and then on toast with mozzarella.  (See Update at bottom of post.)

I am recording what I made this week but this is a moveable feast which changes each time I make it, depending on what is available and what mood I am in. It is not so much a recipe as a snapshot! But I thought it might be nice to share as it brought much comfort and goodness during a week when I am low on energy for cooking.

Vegetarian bolognaise sauce
Serves 6

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
200g mushrooms, sliced
500ml passata (or 1-2 tins of chopped tomatoes)
1 tbsp bush tomato spice mix
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Generous pinch salt
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 medium zucchini, diced
1kg pumpkin roasted (I cut it into small chunks and roasted 2 hours at 200C with a drizzle of olive oil)
1 small tub of roasted veggies from the freezer (fennel, mushroom, pepper)
½ cup frozen peas
1 cup cooked, finely chopped nutloaf
1 tsp seeded mustard
Slurp of red wine
Grated cheese or nutritional yeast flakes to serve

Fry onion in oil a few minutes. Add mushrooms and fry a few more minutes. Add remaining ingredients except pumpkin and nutroast. Simmer 10-15 minutes til sweet potato is just tender. Add pumpkin and nutroast. Simmer another 5-10 minutes and serve over rice or pasta. Top with grated cheese or nutritional flakes. This sauce is great for lasagna too.

Update 13 July 2013 - Made this last night with carrots, mushrooms and leftover nut roast.  So I have updated the top photo because it makes this dish look more appetising than the previous photo.

On the stereo
Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man soundtrack: various artists

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Eight plus eight - recycling tags!

Goodness gracious me! I have been tagged for two memes - 8 things (about my day) by Holler at Tinned Tomatoes and 8 random facts by Brooke from Bear Necessities. Now given that I have been under a bit of a blogger backlog, I thought Holler and Brooke might be forgiving if I was a little cheeky and combined my 8 things and 8 random facts - recycled tags, anyone?

I had decided to write about my Saturday which is fast receding into the background, but I spent time in Fitzroy and this gives me an opportunity to rave about it. So I have written 8 things about my day and then a random fact related to each thing:

1. Read i am alive and you are dead: a journey inside the mind of Philip K Dick: by emmanuel carrere in bed before I got up. I struggle to find time to read and so one of my luxuries is lying in bed on a weekday morning (oops - i mean weekend - and not every single weekend!). On occasions I have lain reading for hours. Once I get up I feel there are so many things to do, I don't do much reading, despite best intentions. Actually a lot of my reading is in bed, because I usually read at night if I have the energy.

2. Let the cat outside. E and I have recently been given an cat, Zinc (see photo), by a work colleague. I grew up with dogs and he grew up with cats. I am a dog-lover at heart but we don't have the space or time for one. Then Leah was looking for a home for her cat and I knew E would absolutely adore it so I am now a proud cat-owner. I have lived with a few cats and Zinc has a lovely nature. But she loves sleeping on my desk chair so my blogging these days often starts with pushing a cat off my chair so I can sit down!

3. Had a swim. As a child, we had a season ticket to the local outdoor pool which was 5 minutes walk around the corner and we spent hours there over summer - I tell my mum it was just so she could get us out of the house. These days, I struggle to find time but once I am in the pool I love it. A back problem last year convinced me it was not only pleasurable but was very good for me so I have a new motivation to try and have a swim each weekend.

4. Went to look at a new desk chair for E. The office furniture place had closed at 2 and we got there about 2pm. E was most displeased and told me that stores closing early on Saturdays is the reason the Australian economy is having problems. I didn't mind. It just gives me another reason to come back to Fitzroy (see picture of Brunswick Street on wintery Saturday). When I first moved into a student share house as a 19 year old, I lived in a blue terrace house in Fitzroy. It is an inner city suburb that has become very dez rez as the yuppies have moved in. When I lived there, it was just begining to take off but my grandmother was so concerned about me living in a street that had been full of gangsters and slums when she was young that I remember my father bringing her to visit to demonstrate it was quite respectable.

5. Had coffee and cake at The Commoner in Johnston Street, Fitzroy. Fitzroy has lots of great cafes and in the rain and gloom on Saturday, we saw this one which had warm cosing lighting. I think it might be new and would go there again. We sat by the bar and too much attention and too little light meant diminished photo opportunities so I wont be doing a separate entry on it. I always say I go for a coffee even though I don't drink it. But I am a sucker for cakes and we shared a baked cheesecake with a spiced plum topping that was very pleasing. I liked their shelves of cookbooks high above the bar and would have loved to have browsed among them.

6. Bought Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver at Brunswick Street Bookstore (also in Fitzroy). Thanks to Brooke from from Bear Necessities for alerting me to this book. When we lived in Edinburgh, E worked in a bookstore and brought home many proof copies of books. He has a great eye for an interesting book (or CD) and brought home so many fantastic reads. One of my very favourites was Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. I just love the way she writes and can't wait to read my new book.

7. Number 7 has to be my pleasure at Saturday's date - 7/7/07. Twice as many Russians got married on Saturday as usually do according to a radio report I heard (and probably don't remember quite accurately) while stuck in peak hour traffic. I was excited about the date because it brings back memories of my primary school teacher telling us how special the date was on 7/7/77 and made us think of what we would be doing on 8/8/88. It seemed such a long way away, that I couldn't even imagine beyond 2000 to 7/7/07, 30 years later! Now I feel old.

8. I talked with four year old Lachlan about tomatoes. The discussion went like this. L - are tomatoes your favourite food? Me - no. L - why don't you like them? Me - I do like them. L - are they your favourite food? Me - no! You get the picture. I couldn't live without tomatoes but I can't eat them alone. Apart from tinned tomatoes in the cupboard for stews and pasta, I often have fresh tomatoes in my fridge for salads or to eat with cheese on a good sourdough bread.

And to pass the tag on, I tag Kathleen and Cindy and Michael for the 8 things about your day meme. I think the 'rules' say I should tag more people but - particularly as many of the bloggers I love visiting are already tagged recently, I think this is enough. Anyway, as I don't always follow recipes to the letter, I don't feel obliged to do so with memes either - aren't I such a rebel blogger :-)

On the Stereo:
Al - Or - Al: Thee Transmutation Ov Mercury: Psychic TV

Gluten Free Afternoon Tea

In my previous post I wrote about making pizza for lunch on Sunday. This was just a quick lunch but the main event was a gluten free afternoon tea for the family. Francesca and I had decided that our monthly baking day would be doing some gluten free food so that my sister Susie and her daughter Grace could enjoy it all. And we would have help from her partner’s kids.

I actually made a batch of little cakes before Fran and Steve and kids arrived. For these I used a standard cupcake recipe and substituted Casalare gluten free flour for wheat flour. I even remembered to put baking powder in the flour. But when I made the sweet banana cornmeal cake from the Gluten Free Goddess, Fran and Steve had arrived. Maybe I was distracted but it was only when I took it out of the oven that I realised that I had not realised her gluten free flour mix was self raising and mine was not. So the bread was a little flat. But more concerning to me was that it was extremely sweet, despite me putting 1 cup of packed brown sugar rather than 1¾ cups.

I had a break from baking while we had pizza and then we got back to it with making chocolate chip cookies. A few weeks back I discovered that Dylan (7) shared a love of chocolate chip cookies with me. I promised we could cook some together and here was our chance. The recipe was from my Great Gluten Free Baking cookbook. It was straightforward which was just as well because as well as Dylan, we had his sister, Maykaylah (3), and the neighbour’s kid, Bailey (3). (Bailey’s dad donated some brown sugar so we managed to avoid a trip to the supermarket).

Cooking with kids was slow and, every now and again, one would loose concentration and walk away. Everyone had to have a turn, and, fearing a biscuit mixture full of dribble, I insisted that no one licked their fingers – it took much self control from all of us, myself included.

Next while the cookie baked, we made grubs. Grubs are a favourite from my childhood (I’ll blog more about these another time) and I thought we could try some different gluten free versions. We mixed the can of condensed milk, some coconut, cocoa and tried a few different versions with substitutions for crushed sweet biscuits. We did a few with cornmeal, a few with ground almonds and quite a lot with chopped dodgy lemon yoghurt cakes from the previous day. They were so soft that I ended up rolling them all in coconut because they were too difficult for the kids.

By now we had plates of food appearing everywhere and it had started to rain. All we had to do was decorate the little cakes. Fran and the kids mixed up some pink icing while I did the grubs. I thought faces would be fun so I asked what colour hair. The consensus was green (which I approved of, having once dyed my hair green!). So we rubbed some green dye through some shredded coconut. I was a little wary of decorations, because I know many might have gluten. So I had specially bought some gluten free smarties for eyes and Fran cut up some fruit roll-ups into mouths. (Susie said she is even unsure about if fruit roll-ups are gluten-free.)

Grace, my little celiac niece, whose recent diagnosis has brought on the gluten free interest, is actually not so interested in sweet food and doesn’t really suffer from not being able to eat cakes and biscuits. But she got right into decorating the cakes by choosing the smarties for eyes. In fact, for all the baking, I think smarties were among her favourite food at the table.

My mum brought along some scones with quince jelly (her speciality) and cream because she felt like baking something herself – she had some gluten free scones in the freezer and had these for Susie and Grace, and gluten scones for the rest of us.

So, we had lots of food, which maybe was just as well for all the energy the kids spent running about our small place, and playing games. It amazed me that they never seemed to sit down with their food but managed to eat quite a bit.

The biggest success was the chocolate chip cookies which were excellent, and as good as any other cookies. They disappeared within hours so I never got to try them cold and see how they lasted. But I am sure I will make them again. The little cakes were also welcome. They looked cute with faces, and kids love them just for the icing and smarties. There were a few over. They tasted pretty good for just doing a gluten free flour mixture substitution.

About a third of the grubs were eaten. They weren’t as plump and round as the ones I usually do. I think the best ones were with almonds. The cornmeal ones were ok – a wee bit crunchy. Unfortunately most of them had the chopped lemon cakes in them which were too soggy and I just didn’t like the lemon flavour – it seemed a good idea at the time but took away from the chocolate taste. The biggest problem was that at the time I couldn’t think about how to differentiate them so we struggled to find the almond and cornmeal ones, and all I seemed to find were the lemon ones. Next time I need to think these through a bit more – which probably means more thought before doing them with kids just before family arrives. Grace’s twin sister Ella, apparently has been loving the ones that were leftover after the afternoon tea. Ella loves all the gluten free baking that Grace is not fussed about.

And the disappointment was the banana bread – not much of it was touched. Fran didn’t like the crunchiness of the cornmeal. It was too sweet for me. We tried eating it with butter. I have bunged it in the freezer and am hoping to get inspired to use the cake crumbs somehow – maybe in my next batch of grubs!

Overall the afternoon tea was a success. Food, after all, as much as I love to be up to my arms in baking, is not a means to an end, but is a great way to bring people together. The adults sat around the table of food and talked while the kids created controlled chaos under the watchful eye of my oldest niece, Quin (10). When the kids had enough of the food and play at my place, Susie and I went with them to the nearby park where the biggest excitement was waving at passing trains. And my family is so lovely that when we got back from the park, the dishes were all done and the place had been cleaned. Perfect end to a great afternoon tea.

Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies
(from Louise Blair)
Makes 30 cookies

75g butter, softened
100g (a bit under a cup) castor sugar
75g (a bit under a cup) lightly packed light brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
150g (1 cup) brown rice flour½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp cocoa
75g gluten free chocolate chips (I used a bit more!)

The recipe says to blend everything except choc chips in a food processor. We just mixed it all by hand. The recipe said to roll each cookie into balls and flatten slightly with the back of a fork. Our mixture was too soft and sticky so we just spooned it out as shapeless blobs onto a lined baking tray and I found they spread as they cooked. Bake in 180C oven for 8-10 minutes (I think I may have forgotten them for a few minutes so can’t quite remember how long but I suspect it was a bit over 10 minutes, and probably just a bit too long). Let cool on tray a few minutes and then remove to wire rack to cool.

Small Cakes
(makes 12)

¼ cup (62g) butter
¼ cup (62g) sugar
1 egg
1 cup self raising flour (or 1 cup gluten free flour plus 2 tsp baking powder)
Pinch salt
2 tbsp milk
¼ tsp vanilla essence

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and vanilla essence and beat well. Add flour, salt and milk a third at a time, folding in lightly. Spoon into patty pans (lined with papers). Bake 15-30 minutes at 160C or til golden.

For more gluten free afternoon tea baking ideas - go to the GF section in my Index of Favourites.

On the stereo
Franz Ferdinand: Franz Ferdinand

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Isa's Pizza - from disaster to delicious

Pizza seems such an easy option so I suggested it as part of Francesca and my next cooking day. (Pizza was merely the entrée – the main event was the gluten free afternoon tea – more of that soon). My large bag of bread flour still mopes about my benchtop feeling unloved, so I said I would make pizza dough. I've done it before - how hard could it be!

But doubling any recipe is always a risk. On Sunday morning it was an unmitigated disaster. I decided to make two bowls of dough and put a cup of lukewarm water in each. But when I looked I couldn’t see the water in my glass pyrex bowl and didn’t find it there til half an hour later after I had thought I had accidentally put all water in one bowl (my doubts had mounted as I added water to a dough mixture that was stubbornly dry).

It was only when I went to oil my pyrex bowl (so the dough could rise in it) I finally found it had a cup of water in it. Argh! Suffice to say it did not put me in a good mood. I had two bowls of dodgy pizza dough and Fran, Steve and three kids expected in an hour or two. I was not feeling optimistic.

The one positive about this dough was that it rose for an hour, got punched down and then was to rise another hour or two, which – time permitting – I thought seemed likely to help the dough along.

Fran and Steve and kids arrived. Fran bought a bag of veggies to cut up for the toppings. We had enough dough for four 28cm (11”) pizzas. The kids’ favourite task for the day seemed to be rolling the pizza dough. No doubt this was partly due to it being one of the first things they did before the concentration waned. And who wouldn’t want to use my new green rolling pin! I was pleased the dough was stretchy and pliable (and after much earlier cursing, I was most grateful to Isa of Vegan with a Vengeance for her excellent dough recipe).

Three pizzas would have been enough but four allowed different variations for the various personalities (and leftovers for that night’s dinner). The toppings were generous servings of broccoli, mushroom, tomato, capsicum and pineapple. I had meant to roast pumpkin for Maykaylah but got too stressed to get organized. Fran had also brought over onion which I like on pizza but we forgot. I know that technically pizza should be a bit minimalist but that is not my style and lots of veggies on top mean you can forgo salad or side veggies when you are busy.

After all my angst, the dough was great – soft, bready and not too soggy. One pizza was a little soggy which we attributed to too many tomato slices. You will see from my pic that we cooked the pizza so that cheese was golden brown. When Fran saw how much I cooked it, she was worried it was too much for the kids. E likes his cheese just melted but I like it cooked til it starts to brown and crisp up. But no one complained. And we had leftovers for later.

Pizza dough
(from Vegan with a Vengeance)

1 cup warm water
1½ tbsp sugar
1 (¼ ounce package) active dry yeast (I used a 7g pkt)
2 tbsp olive oil
3 cups bread flour
1 tsp salt
Cornmeal (optional)

Isa gives a long chatty essay about making pizza dough which I will not even attempt to replicate so if you want lots of information go to the book! This is the abridged version.

Place warm water, sugar and yeast in a large bowl. Stir and then stand 10 minutes. It should be frothy. Then add oil and stir in. Add flour and salt. Isa says to just add them all together but I only used 2½ cups (5 for my double mixture) so you might want to go easy on the flour and not add it all at once. Mix with spoon or hands. It should form a shaggy (slightly sticky) dough that you can scrape out onto a floured surface. (I use a chopping board which I find easier when I clean up but it wasn’t holding to the bench so I had to put rubber gloves under it so it didn’t slip and slide while I kneaded). Knead about 10 minutes. It should be ‘nice and stretchy, still moist and tacky but not sticky or gooey’ according to Isa.

Form dough into a ball and put in an oiled bowl – swish the ball around so it is lightly covered with oil. Cover with clingwrap or a damp teatowel and place in a warm place til it has doubled in size. This should take about an hour. Uncover, punch down to remove the air and knead for a minute or two. Place back in bowl and cover. Isa says you can freeze it now or leave as little as 10 minutes or as long as 2 hours. She says it is up to you – probably depends on stress levels and when you want to eat.

When you are ready to assemble pizza cut dough in two and stretch to fit two 14” pizza pans. Or if you are me, get out a rolling pin and roll and stretch it and you will fit two 11” pizza pans. I greased my pans lightly before putting the dough in.

Put whatever toppings you like on – we put on pizza sauce, mushrooms, cooked finely chopped broccoli, capsicum, pineapple, cheese and chilli flakes. I cooked it at 240C for about 20 minutes til the cheese was golden brown. Bellissimo!

On the stereo
The best of: Blur