Posted by: edibleplanet | May 14, 2011

Mystery Bag Challenge – Part 1

We decided to have a mystery bag cook-off. A bit like the game at the end of “Ready, Steady, Cook” where people present ingredients to the chefs and they have to decide what to make. Fiona put together a bunch of bags with an eclectic range of ingredients (it was a great way to use some of the quake-dented or damaged stock) and the bags were distributed amongst 5 raving foodies. The rules were that you had to make at least a savoury and sweet dish, and that you had to try to use at least a little of every ingredient in your bag. You could add as many extra ingredients as you like.

Fiona chose not to cook and put the bags together out of my sight (so I could play too). In my bag I received:

  • Polenta
  • Chipotles (dried, smoked jalapeno chillies)
  • Glacé pears
  • Coconut milk
  • Achiote Paste
  • Shiitake mushrooms
  • Black bean sauce
  • A can of haricot beans
So I have decided to make Yucatecan Spicy Pork using the achiote paste. I’ll use the polenta and chipotles to make a chipotle cornbread (tex-mex style) and I’ll use the beans to make a bean and tomatillo salsa. A kind of Mexican theme to that bit. I’ll make some Chinese style steamed chicken and shiitake dumplings and serve them with a black bean dipping sauce. For my sweet dish, I’ll make a Thai style sweet sticky rice dish served with glacé pears instead of mango.
I have a good deal of cooking to do, so I better get on with it! We’ve got every one else coming around tonight with their dishes. I can’t wait to see how people have used the ingredients, and what they have decided to make.
— Karl
Posted by: edibleplanet | April 22, 2011

Turkish Easter Bread

Turkish Easter Bread

Bread fresh from oven

Mahleb was on our list of products to stock from the time we opened our shop but MAF proved a bigger match and we haven’t managed to get some into the country to it on the shelf. This shifty spice is a type of seed(hence the MAF issues) – it is the seed inside the stone of the St. Lucis Cherry. From our research it is best to have it whole and then grind it just as you need it, to keep the flavour. It has a sweet/sour flavour and you don’t need much.

One of the recipes that is famed for its use is Turkish Easter Bread(paskalya coregi). A brioche like bread that is traditionally eaten on Easter Sunday. I didn’t realise the Easter Sunday bit and we ate ours on Monday.

With Easter approaching we were getting customer requests for mahleb and it was frustrating to not be able to provide it. Then I started googling substitutes.

I found suggestions on spice combinations that could work. The most common combination suggested bay leaves, 3 cloves and 5cm of cinnamon stick ground together. I tried it out and it seemed a good mix of sweet/sour and did seem to have a hint of the flavour of cherry stones.

uncooked easter bread

The bread after being brushed with egg yolk and sprinkled with almonds, ready for the oven

So I googled away and decided on this recipe for the bread to try out my fake mahleb. Easter bread recipe often also include mastic(which we can get), which is a resin that changes the texture of the bread. I decided to not include it this time.
I added the ingredients to the bread maker, including my fake mahleb, put it onto the dough setting and left it to it.
Once the dough was made and risen, I shaped it into the traditional plait and left it for another hour for its second rising.
I glazed it with the remaining egg yolk and sprinkled with almond slivers and into the oven it went.
It emerged smelling glorious and I could hardly wait for it to cool down to try.

We tried it hot and it was delicious though I felt the cinnamon was perhaps too dominant in the spice blend. The next day when it had cooled and I tried it for breakfast with a cup of tea, the fake mahleb tasted much more balanced. Of course I haven’t tried the bread made with the real thing but definitely fake mahleb makes a very delicious loaf and it has a beautiful texture too. It was fun experimenting with ways to achieve the flavour of a spice. We also decided bay leaves and cinnamon make a nice a combination.

We have found out you can buy the cherry trees here so perhaps we just need to grow our own mahleb.

Posted by: edibleplanet | March 28, 2011

Huevos falsos – fried eggs for pudding

false eggsI mentioned in this blogpost about huevos falsos (false eggs). It was a recipe in the dessert section of the Chilean recipe book we got out of the library. The recipe was somewhat Heston-like, with it pretending to be something else. It was neat to read Chileans were ahead of Heston in the area of fried eggs for dessert. The recipe said it was particularly popular with kids and I thought, ours would love it.
If you are getting excited about an egg free egg recipe, I am sorry to disappoint – huevos falsos do have egg in them!
The idea was to construct a fried egg by whipping up egg white from a couple of eggs with some icing sugar and beating a similar amount of cream – around 1/2 cup. Both mixtures had to be quite firm and then when you mix them together you got a light, sweet, white mixture. To make the yoke the recipe said to peel and chop a yellow peach in half and place it in the middle.
After making them once, when we made them again we pureed the peach because then you could make the “yolk” more rounded as opposed to the peach half in the photo. We found you did have to puree the peach just before serving or it lost its egg yolk colour. Our second batch of huevos falsos we served on slices of coconut loaf that we had lightly toasted and it did look like eggs on toast!
As a dessert it was light and the fruit yolk was nice with the creamy white. We definitely enjoyed our eggs for pudding.

Posted by: edibleplanet | March 11, 2011

How to cook biscuits

quake cooked biscuitsIt is weird, the little things that cause you angst.
We were driving home on Tuesday 22nd February, the traffic was inching along. Karl had just spent the previous hour and half trying to find our five year old daughter, who goes to school in Christchurch’s CBD and then another hour and half driving the normally fifteen minute journey from the city to our shop.
Being without power or media, so unaware of quite how devastating this aftershock had been, we were lamenting the biscuits as we turned into our road, a slalom around humps and dips (these have now been repaired).
Karl had been at home cooking with our three year old son before the 6.3 quake struck. They had just lifted out of the oven, a fantastic banana cake. It had risen majestically in the ring tin, browned and cooked perfectly. They popped a tray of biscuits into the oven, then wham! The ground shook violently and when it had finished the power and water were gone. Karl turned the oven off at the wall in case the power came on in his absence and raced out the door and into the car to find our five year old.
As we were driving home, he was saying how the biscuits were looking really good and now we would have to throw away a tray of raw dough and what a waste of ingredients.
We finally arrived home to find still no power or water. The oven clock read ten to one. We opened the oven door and to our surprise the biscuits were perfectly cooked! They were nicely golden brown and crunchy – a little piece of sweetness in a sad city. So as electricity prices increase, perhaps this a good way to cook biscuits. When the oven is up to temperature, pop your biscuits in and turn off the oven. Leave for a few hours and they will be ready.

Posted by: edibleplanet | February 19, 2011

Why does deep fried food taste so good?


Some Poori

Last week we discovered puri (or poori) – an Indian dish of flat discs of dough that are deep fried until they puff up. They are completely brilliant. Fun to make and more delicious than such simple food has any right to be! They are perfect with a spicy vegetarian curry. But it got us thinking. Why is deep fried food so good?

The quick and obvious answer is; “Oh, it’s the fat.” Now this is true to a certain extent, but it’s not the whole picture. For a start, while it’s nice to nibble little bits of butter when you’re baking you can’t eat a huge block of it. It becomes sickly very quickly. Lard, kremelta and ghee aren’t even nice to nibble on. Olive oil is delicious, but I wouldn’t want to drink a whole glass of even the finest extra virgin oil. No, there’s more to the deep fried thing than just the sheer consumption of fat.

It turns out that (like a lot of things when you start digging) there is a lot going on when you deep fry something. Each of these aspects aren’t much by themselves, but taken as a whole they constitute the amazing flavour of deep fried food.

Firstly the oil is at a high temperature (about 190ºC when I do it). The food is immersed in this very hot medium which transfers heat much better than air. It’s also completely devoid of water. Any water in the surface of the food quickly boils and evaporates. This means the surface of the food becomes very dry and crisp. The hot oil also allows the middle of the food to come up to temperature and cook very quickly. Moisture doesn’t have time to escape before the food is removed from the oil and served. The crispy outside and soft, moist interior are characteristic of deep fried food, and certainly one of the appealing factors.

On the surface of the food the intense heat of the fat causes two other reactions to occur: caramelisation and Maillard reactions. Caramelisation is the browning of sugars, and it is the same process as making toffee. Any sugars on the surface of the food are quickly caramelised to a deep brown colour. Maillard reactions are very similar to caramelisation, but they happen to amino acids rather than sugars. The best example of a maillard reaction is the crust that forms as you cook a steak. It’s not the sugars in the steak turning brown, it’s the proteins. The same happens on the crust when you bake bread. Maillard reactions are very complicated, and there is still much that we don’t know about how they work, but we do know that humans find the flavour of caramelisation and maillard reactions very tasty indeed. Deep fried food is a beautiful golden-brown because of these two reactions, and another contributor to their appeal.

Finally, deep fried food does indeed absorb some fat, and yes we do find fat nice to eat.

Deep fried food has a terrible reputation these days because it’s ubiquity, cheapness and deliciousness means that we have been eating far too much of it. Combined with our relatively easy-going lifestyles we tend to store all that wonderful energy away rather than burn it all off toiling in the fields. So I can’t tell you that deep fried food is healthy, but I can explain why we find it so agreeable to eat.

Here’s a recipe for puri, just in case you are curious:

1 cup flour
2 tablespoons semolina
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp salt
water to make a dough a bit less than half a cup

Combine the flour, semolina, salt and milk. Add water gradually until you have a nice flexible dough.  Knead until smooth and elastic. Let the dough rest for at least 30 mins to let the gluten develop. Heat a small pan of oil to about 190ºC. Take balls of dough, flatten them into a disk shape (we use a tortilla press, but you can use your hands, a rolling pin or anything flat and heavy). Drop them into the oil and marvel as they puff up. Flip them over so the other side can puff up. Remove from the oil when they are golden. Serve with a spicy curry and some pickle.


Posted by: edibleplanet | February 17, 2011

Carrot sweets

pot of carrot sweetWe borrowed a Chilean cookbook from the library and it had some intriguing recipes. There was Huevos falsos (false eggs as a dessert). We thought the kids would love that – will write about those in a later blog.

The book was great because it was written by a Chilean woman who now lived in the USA. Another Chilean had also borrowed the book from the library and where they disagreed with the paragraphs about Chilean life or a recipe, they had left their own comments.

There was also an intriguing recipe for carrot sweets. We had carrots growing in our garden so I thought we would give this recipe a try. I dug a couple of carrots out of the garden and grated them. The recipe said one cup of grated carrot was needed. That was about two carrots from our garden.

It also called for a pound of sugar. Which is 450 grams of sugar. This was a lot of sugar and I think having made them, next time I would add a little less, maybe 350 grams because they really were sweet! The recipe also required the juice of one orange (and the zest which you add later).

Into the pot went the carrot, sugar and orange juice and then it was just a matter of boiling it down to a really thick syrup. This took quite awhile, over forty minutes. By then it was bedtime so we stirred in the zest of the orange and after some wee tastings, left it to cool off. By the next morning it was much firmer and we rolled it into balls and then rolled them in coconut.

We kept them in the fridge. They were really nice, very sweet and still carroty. The kids loved them and I will definitely make them again for parties. It was neat to make a sweet out of a vegetable and they were a lovely orange colour too.

Posted by: edibleplanet | January 29, 2011

Hibiscus Tea

hibiscus teaRecently we did some experimenting with hibiscus tea. It seems most of the world already knows about this stuff and loves it – from Africa and the Middle East, to the Caribbean. It also has many names; Roselle in Saudi Arabia, karkade in Egypt. Flor De Jamaica in South America and other countries have their own name for it too!
I was taken with it because it is made from flowers and tea from flowers is just neat in itself. Then when you make it the colour is just beautiful – such a glorious deep red.
Being a non caffeinated drink, it is good any time and you can also make it hot or cold.
The basic recipe I went with was a teaspoon of the dried flowers steeped in boiling water for five minutes. Then I poured it off into a cup and added about two teaspoons of sugar. You can also use honey. It was really nice and reminded us of hot blackcurrant drinks. The flavour is subtle but not unpleasant.
We then also tried it cold. I did the same recipe of a teaspoon of dried flowers per cup but I also added a slice of fresh ginger while it was steeping. After adding the sugar and making sure it was dissolved, I added lemon juice and put it in the fridge to cool. The recipe I was trying to follow, I found here. I didn’t have it handy at home but I thought the liquid sweeteners such as agave nectar would be perfect for making this drink.
I made the ice version on a Canterbury Nor’wester day with the temperature sweeping over 30 degrees. It was a very nice refreshing drink on such a day. I think it would be perfect as a non alcoholic drink at a barbecue. It is so refreshing and the colour is very dramatic. Though apparently it does stain quite badly so not one for the children.

Posted by: edibleplanet | January 19, 2011

Lamb stew in the clouds

Camp site

Our campsite

Over the Christmas break we all got away for a short camping holiday. We often go to Purple Peak. It’s only 10-15 mins from Akaroa, but it could be a million kilometres away. There’s no power, no mobile coverage and you are 1500 feet up a mountainside so the views take your breath away.

We pitched our tent in a nice flat area and then started to prepare our evening meal. Since we bought our Cobb oven, we have started planning and executing some culinary masterpieces while we ‘rough it’ in the outdoors. First up some rosti because the gentle heat of the oven cooks them perfectly. Rosti are brilliantly simple. Just grate some potato and onion. Put all the gratings into a clean tea towel and squeeze as much water out of them as you can. Put the dry potato and onion into a bowl and add some melted butter and lots of black pepper. The rosti can be cooked as lots of little hash browns or as a single big cake. The secret is to cook very slowly so the potato is cooked through by the time you have a glorious golden crust.

Next up we made a citrus lamb stew with a hunk of lamb rump. Again, simple to prepare. Cut the lamb into bite size chunks, add to a casserole dish with a tin of good quality Italian tomatoes, a bay leaf or two, some thyme sprigs, lots of black pepper, a chopped onion, a chopped carrot or two and the juice and zest from some citrus fruit. We usually go for something sweet like an orange as well as something sour like a lemon or lime. Add some water (or stock) if it looks like you don’t have enough sauce.

Most recipes usually get you to brown the meat, and if we were making this at home we definitely would, but when we’re camping we tend to just chuck everything together and throw it into the oven. It needs long slow cooking until everything is tender and the sauce has thickened. A good time to go for a long walk up to the Purple Peak Saddle and drink in the view.

On this particular camping trip, just as the stew finished cooking, the clouds descended right down. We ate our stew with our backs against the car, out of the wind, in the complete white silence you get inside a cloud. It was a magical experience, but it was also great to have something so hearty and warm to eat!

For dessert we made a classic Kiwi choccy self-saucing pudding. We had mixed together all the dry ingredients at home and then added the wet ingredients just before we cooked it. We didn’t even bother dishing this onto our plates. We sat round the casserole dish, that had earlier held our lamb stew (we did wash it in between), and all dug in with spoons, even the five year old and three old did—loving every bite! I thought after the rosti and the lamb stew we might not eat it all, but it disappeared quickly, despite it being straight from the oven. When you’re outdoors, the hunger really does kick in. By this time the cloud had lifted and we could see all the way down the valley to the bay below and the Pacific Ocean out to the horizon.

The prep time for our three course dinner was minimal and while cooking each course did take a while, we had a lovely view to look at and walks to do. Dinner cooked away by itself and we engaged ourselves with enjoying the great outdoors (and telling the kids not to drag track huge amounts of grass through our tent).

That night we all went to sleep happy, and with full bellies!

Posted by: edibleplanet | December 18, 2010

Making a gingerbread house

the gingerbread houseGingerbread houses are a great Christmasey thing. It appears to have started in Germany and spread to Norway and Sweden or possibly the reverse, it was a long time ago. It has since caught on big time in the United States. According to tradition the Christmas elves move in on little Christmas Eve, the 23rd of December and move out on New Year’s Eve. We’ve always eaten it on Christmas night,  evicting the poor elves early!
This year we had got some Swedish kits into the shop and I decided to make up a kit to see how well they worked.
Since my gingerbread was already premade I first dried it in an oven for five minutes as suggested and left it to cool. On the box it said to make the ‘glue’ for sticking the pieces together, out of melted icing sugar. I melted a cup of icing sugar until it was golden brown and thick. I should have then waited for it to cool but eager to get with construction I started sticking my house together. It wouldn’t stick. Just as I thought it was together, it would collapse. A few harsh words were said. I decided to try using the royal icing as glue. I had made half the recipe from the Edmonds book. I had even added the glycerine (we have some in the cupboard for making bubble mixture). It turns out glycerine actually helps the royal icing not to set hard, so I probably shouldn’t have added it. The royal icing wasn’t setting fast enough to hold my house together. But now my melted icing sugar had coolled down and it was really gloopy. I brushed it on the edges with a pastry brush, as well as bringing down the summer temperature in our kitchen by opening up the doors and windows. I guess in Sweden and Germany, these would be made in much cooler conditions. The icing sugar glue worked perfectly. I didn’t need all of it though and next time I would only do half a cup of icing sugar. It was reassuring when sticking it together to see that the commercial kits don’t achieve perfectly straight edges either. As I waited to see if it would hold together, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would survive an earthquake, after recent events in my city.
Once my house was altogether and relatively firm, the fun could begin with the decorating. It was great fun doing the royal icing because since it is snow, it doesn’t have to be perfect and it was a nice touch to add little hanging icicles of icing off the side of the roof. Of course the finishing step was the sprinkle through a sieve of icing sugar for that last snowfall.
Next year, we’ll go the full distance and make the gingerbread too and I love the idea of crushing boiled sweets and putting them in the window holes while the gingerbread is cooking to form coloured glass windows.

Posted by: edibleplanet | December 3, 2010

The Staff of Life

Some bread

Home-made is best!


Sometimes it isn’t a very interesting topic of conversation. In my experience we spend more time discussing the filling of our sandwiches, rather than the bread that holds the filling. There’s nothing particularly interesting in a loaf of white toast slice. Unless it is really fresh, buttered and full of chips from the fish and chip shop. But I digress…

Bread can be interesting! Once you decide you are a baker then bread becomes a topic you really enjoy discussing. I’ve dabbled with bread for a long time, and only recently have I started turning out loaves of bread that I can truly say I am really happy with. I have a couple of good mates who are on a similar journey and we can talk for ages about how we cook our bread, how long we let it rise, what temperature the oven should be at, what effect this has on the crust. It’s a lot of fun. For me it has been an exercise in what to leave out as well as mastering the most important ingredient for any artisan loaf—time.

My first loaves of bread were made to a recipe in a book by Annabel Langbein (she of Free-range Cook fame) and John Kirwin. The book was called “John Kirwan & Annabel Langbein’s favourite barbecue and grill recipes (1989)”, and it had a recipe for “Italian Pizza Bread”. It’s not a great bread recipe. Any bread recipe that begins “Add yeast and sugar and water to the bowl of your food processor” is probably not going to be a classic. I’m almost certain that the bread did not have any particular origins in Naples (adding some rosemary on top seemed to be the only real Italian touch). But it got me started, and the bread always got eaten. Even slightly dodgy home-made bread is still GOOD!

There are two issues I have had with home-made bread. The too yeasty flavour, and the dry crumbly texture. No matter how hard I tried and could never solve those two issues. Recently I seem to have cracked it. I am down to four ingredients now. Here’s my current bread recipe that turns out beautiful, bouncy, spongy artisan bread:

For 1 loaf:

375g strong bread flour (12% protein if you can find it)
1.5 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp salt
about 250ml water

Add all the ingredients together and mix into a dough. Don’t stress if the dough is on the soft wobbly side. I usually use the breadmaker set to “dough”. The breadmaker does a remarkably good job of mixing and kneading, but I never let it actually cook the bread for me. It has messed it up too often to be trusted! It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a breadmaker, or are morally opposed to them You can make the dough the good old-fashioned way (and build up your forearm muscles at the same time). It is important to knead the dough long enough to end up with a smooth, bouncy elastic ball of bread potential. If the dough has lumps or is dense and unyeilding then you have to keep going.

Put the bread into a warm place and let it rise for a good hour. The breadmaker also does quite a nice job of this too.

Punch the dough down (in other words knock some of the gas out of it), shape it into its final form (can be plain or really fancy). I usually line a round bowl with a well-floured tea-towel and put the dough in it covered with another tea-towel. Then let the dough rise again for another hour or so. This second rising is critical! Do not be tempted to do the 10 minutes that some recipes recommend.

Once the second rising is done turn the dough out ever-so-carefully onto a baking tray (if you shaped your dough on a baking tray, or in a loaf tin, in the first place then you can ignore this step). Sprinkle some flour over it if you like. Slash the top in interesting patterns if you like. Place it into a VERY hot oven. I usually go for 220ºC on fan bake. I sometimes put a tray of water in the bottom to generate steam for a chewy crust. The bread will be cooked in about 12-15 mins, so keep an eye on it. It’s done when you tap the bottom and it sounds hollow.

Give it a go. You will be completely delighted with the result. And if you aren’t then try again and muck around with the recipe until you have a loaf you are proud of.

— Karl

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