Enjoying the New Kitchen

Rain pounded on the roof and hissed against the windows. Wind whipped around the porch, tossing deck chairs everywhere. I lay warm in bed, only vaguely registering the weather, grateful once again to be in the new house and not in the shed.

We’re still settling into the house, but we’ve already given the kitchen a workout. Some days, when I step into that room, I wonder what we were thinking—it’s so huge! Then I cook something and appreciate every inch of space.

It’s been hard to get a photo of the foods we’ve baked–they’re eaten so quickly.

We’ve been craving all the baked goods we haven’t been able to make in the past three months. In the first twenty-four hours after moving in, we baked eight loaves of bread, three dozen cookies, and a batch of lemon scones. Over the next four days, we added pizza, Not yo’ mama’s mac and cheese, quiche, apricot tart, chocolate cupcakes, and homemade granola to that list. Moving into our second week in the house, we’ve made Mum’s fluffy buns, bean burgers, oven baked French fries, Irish soda bread, spaghetti with tofu meatballs, and roast vegetables.

Visiting some of our favourite foods after too many months without them has been a delight. It may be time to head to the library for some inspiration now—think what new things we could make in the fabulous new kitchen!

Chocolate Currant Upside Down Cake

Usually I bake a fancy cake for Queen’s Birthday, because any birthday is an excuse for cake. Heck, any day is an excuse for cake. But Her Majesty’s birthday is an excuse for FANCY cake.

This year, however, my cake baking abilities were limited. I made a chocolate blackcurrant upside down cake in the microwave, of course, since we’re still living in the shed. 

It was, perhaps, the ugliest cake I’ve ever made—rivalled only by the red currant upside down cake I made a couple of weeks ago. Something about the currants makes the cake slump in a truly unattractive fashion when flipped.

Good thing Her Majesty was busy this evening and couldn’t make it. We slathered the cake in generous helpings of whipped cream to hide its ugliness.

But there was no hiding the amazing flavour. I’m quite fond of blackcurrant and chocolate together, and the cake featured both flavours perfectly.

Below is the recipe. I’ve made this with frozen red currants as well, and it’s equally good.

Topping:
60 g (1/4 cup) butter
1/2 cup sugar
approx. 1 cup frozen (thawed) black currants

Cake:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup wholemeal flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla

Make the topping: Melt butter in a 23 cm (9-in) square microwave-safe baking pan. Sprinkle sugar over the butter and then spread the currants evenly over the butter-sugar mix. Set aside.

Cake: Combine flours, cocoa, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl. Whisk the sugar, eggs, oil, milk and vanilla in another bowl until well mixed. Pour wet ingredients into the dry and stir until just moistened. Pour batter over the topping in the baking pan and bake in the microwave on high for about 7 minutes (the top should still look quite sticky and wet). Turn the cake out onto a plate immediately and leave the pan over top for a few minutes to let all the sticky goodness drip onto the cake. Serve warm with whipped cream.

Microwave Sticky Citrus Cake

I’ve been playing around with microwave cakes since my last cake post, and in particular upside down cakes. The topping soaks into the cake, taking care of any dry bits if the cake is accidentally overcooked. And who can resist upside down cake anyway?

My most recent concoction was a citrus cake. I was aiming for something akin to sticky orange cake, but within the abilities of my pared-down shed life. It didn’t quite get there, but it was pretty darned good nonetheless. I see more of these cakes in our future. Here’s the recipe, if you want to give it a go.

Topping:
60 g (1/4 cup) butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 lemon
1 orange

Cake:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup barley flour
1/4 cup fine cornmeal (polenta)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 tsp vanilla
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange

Grate lemon and orange rind into a medium bowl and set aside. 

Topping: Peel the remainder of the white pith from the lemon and orange and slice them thinly. Melt butter in a 23 cm (9-in) microwave safe pan. Sprinkle brown sugar over the butter, then arrange citrus slices on top.

Cake: Mix flours, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Whisk brown sugar, eggs, vegetable oil, orange juice and vanilla together with the citrus zest. Combine the wet and dry ingredients and pour over the topping in the pan.

Bake 6 minutes on high in the microwave. Invert the pan immediately onto a plate and allow the pan to sit on top for a few minutes for all the gooey bits to drip onto the cake. 

Make Marcella Hazan Proud

On Sunday my husband and I decided to make lasagne for dinner—and not just a meal’s worth, but enough to freeze for quick mid-week meals. With the garden full of late-summer vegetables, it was a great choice. We divided the work as we usually do—I would make the pasta and my husband would make the sauce.

Then I remembered I’d already packed up the pasta maker and taken it to the new house. How was I going to roll out the pasta?

I heard Marcella Hazan scoff from her grave. She never used a pasta machine. No good Italian would be caught with one of those.

It was time for me to learn to roll out pasta the ‘right’ way—by hand.

Thankfully, Ms. Hazan includes detailed directions in The Classic Italian Cookbook. With the book open on the benchtop, I began kneading and rolling my dough.

“I expected more swearing,” my husband commented ten minutes later. And there might have been, had I not had experience with pasta dough before. But the instructions were comprehensive and my dough compliant.

It still wasn’t easy—to stretch and coax the dough so thin without ripping it or letting it dry out was a challenge. It was also quite a workout—by the time I’d finished I was sweating and my arms were tired.

But it worked! My pasta sheets weren’t quite as thin as those I make with the pasta machine. And they were ragged oblongs instead of the neat rectangles that emerge from the machine. But they did well in lasagne. The thicker sheets had a nice toothsome quality. 

Marcella would be proud.

Still, I’ll be glad to go back to using the pasta machine in the future. 

Summer Soup 2020

No pandemic hoarding here, just the usual late season batch of Summer Soup. I’ve written about Summer Soup on numerous occasions (2015, 2016, 2018, and twice in 2019). We’ve been making it annually for at least a decade, and it has always been a family affair. In the early years, the children’s vegetable chopping efforts were more symbolic than helpful, but as their skills improved, their input became critical to the relatively rapid production of vast quantities of soup. 

This year, with our upcoming move, the garden output is less than in many years, and there’s so much to do, I wasn’t sure we would have a chance to make Summer Soup. In the end, I did it alone. Starting at 7.30 am, with many interruptions to help move furniture and tools, I began picking and processing vegetables. I pulled the final jars out of the canner shortly before 11 pm.

I listened to music and podcasts while I worked, and I got some brief help from my husband, but it wasn’t the same without the rest of the family there. Neither was the output—13 quarts of soup and 4 quarts of stock. 

I’m not disappointed—thirteen meals plus flavouring for four more will be lovely in the coming weeks and months—but I look forward to getting back to the family production of Summer Soup next year. It’s not just soup; it’s a celebration, and not nearly so much fun alone.

Problem or Inspiration?

The other day I planned on making roast potatoes for dinner. I brought in a colander full of spuds from the garden—more than enough for dinner.

Unfortunately, when I started cutting them I found many of them infected with zebra chip (caused by the bacterium Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum), which turns the flesh brown. My planned dish of potatoes was looking pretty empty.

I could have gone out for more potatoes, but instead I took advantage of the resources on hand in the kitchen. I added a shallot and a few chopped tomatoes, sprinkled it with salt, pepper and rosemary, and popped it into the oven (at 210ºC for about 40 minutes for anyone interested).

The result was utterly satisfying and arguably better than the plain roast potatoes I’d originally planned. Instead of a problem, the rampant zebra chip became delicious inspiration.

Now, if I can only remember that for all the other problems in life …

Crazy Cake #1–2020

It’s birthday cake season again! This year, my daughter’s brief for me was a Kura Tawhiti bouldering theme, with ‘maybe a climber and some alpine plants’ done in chocolate and hazelnut flavours.

I think both of us had a vision of a grey boulder or boulders with climber, plants, etc. But as I started in on the cake, the vision changed.

I made one of my favourite devil’s food cake recipes (from Tartine) in a range of round layer sizes. I sliced each layer in half and filled it with my homemade Nutella, stacking the layers in a wonky boulder-like shape. 

Then I stood there and contemplated the decoration. My plan had been to make the standard quick icing I use for decorating, but the amazing rich chocolate cake with decadent Nutella filling really needed something better than quick icing. It needed ganache.

So that’s what it got—chocolate ganache covered with ground hazelnuts to get a more appropriate boulder colour. 

I added chunks of hazelnut praline for a more rocky appearance, and made some alpine plants and a climber from Mexican paste. A few small final touches with a simple sugar and milk icing, and the cake was finished.

It didn’t look anything like I thought it would when I started, but it tasted absolutely divine! No wonder—it contained over 400 grams of chocolate, two cups of hazelnuts, and a gloriously unhealthy quantity of butter and cream. In the end, no one was paying much attention to the look—we were too busy oohing and aahing over the taste.

Homemade Nutella, Take 2

A while back, I mentioned the Nutella I’d made, and noted it wasn’t quite right, so I’d have to try again.

Well, the most recent attempt, modified based on the shortcomings of the last batch, was a winner. I increased the hazelnuts and decreased the chocolate, so the nut flavour was more dominant, and I used a dark chocolate with a lower cocoa content, which prevented the spread from setting up like a rock when cool.

Here’s the recipe:

1 1/4 cups hazelnuts
175 g dark chocolate (50% cocoa solids)
2 Tbs vegetable oil
3 Tbs confectioner’s sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla

Spread hazelnuts on a tray and roast approximately 10 minutes at 180ºC until fragrant. Rub off the skins and allow to cool.

Chop the chocolate and melt over simmering water. Allow to cool.

Grind the nuts in a food processor until they form a paste. Blend in the oil, sugar, salt and vanilla. Add the chocolate and blend until smooth and well-mixed.

The mixture will be quite runny, but will set as it cools.

Of course, I’ll almost certainly tweak this recipe more. Just a touch less sugar and a touch less salt next time, perhaps. And I still haven’t achieved the silky smoothness of commercial Nutella—no matter how long I grind the hazelnuts, they still lend a gritty texture to the spread. It would be a whole lot of work, but I might try using a mortar and pestle on the nuts next time, to work on the texture issue …

You see, there’s always a good excuse to make more Nutella.

Uplifted Polenta Lasagne, Take 2

A while back I blogged about the Uplifted Polenta Lasagne my husband made. Well, recently I decided to create another version of it based on the ingredients I had available. The result was spectacular and deeply satisfying.

First, make the firm polenta:

1 1/2 cups corn meal (sold as ‘polenta’ here, sold as ‘instant polenta’ in many other places)
5 cups water
1 1/2 tsp salt

Bring salted water to a boil and whisk in the cornmeal. Turn the heat down slightly and whisk for about five minutes, until the polenta thickens. Pour out onto a large, lightly oiled jelly roll pan and spread evenly. Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes.

While the polenta is cooling, make the tomato sauce:

2 cloves garlic
2 Tbs olive oil
2 smallish carrots, grated
1 Tbs paprika
1 can chopped tomato (I would have used fresh if I’d had any)
handful fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste

Saute the garlic in oil until fragrant. Drop in carrots and paprika and cook for a minute or two longer. Add tomato, basil, salt and pepper and simmer for 15 minutes.

While the tomato sauce is simmering:

Preheat the oven to 190ºC (375ºF).

Slice a medium-large zucchini into 3 mm thick rounds.

Grate 1 1/2 cups edam cheese.

When all the components are ready, oil a 23×33 cm (9×13-inch) baking pan. Cut polenta into about 24 squares. Layer polenta squares, tomato sauce, and zucchini rounds in sideways ‘stacks’ to fill the pan. Pour over the remaining tomato sauce and top with cheese. Bake for 30 minutes.

Lazy Sunday Baked Oatmeal

I make a cooked breakfast every Sunday. It’s a luxury—a gift I give myself as much as to the family. So it doesn’t feel like a chore to get up early and cook once a week.

At least, most of the time it doesn’t. Once in a while I’m uninspired on a Sunday morning, particularly if I spent Saturday in the kitchen.

Last week was one of those Sundays. I couldn’t be bothered making scones or pancakes or muffins. So I pulled out a recipe my mother gave me years ago. One I don’t recall ever having made, but it was a simple, stir-together baked oatmeal that struck me as just the thing for a Sunday I didn’t feel like cooking. Best of all, the bread oven was still hot from the previous day, so I didn’t even have to use the electric oven. 

I modified the recipe a bit (because I can’t seem to ever make a recipe exactly as it calls for).

here’s my version of baked oatmeal—delicious with a generous dollop of unsweetened yogurt or a splash of milk.

125 g (1/2 cup) melted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
3 cups quick cooking oats
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup raisins

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Pour into a 23 cm (9-inch) square baking pan. Bake at 180ºC (350ºF) for 30-35 minutes.