Saturday, July 27, 2013

Spaghetti for Summer

One of those evenings with absolutely no idea what to prepare for dinner. Spaghetti-loving son mentioned pasta, I'd just picked some basil from the garden, and we did have some fresh tomatoes... off to the The Silver Spoon for one of the easiest dishes ever. 

I gave Paul the Silver Spoon cookbook a zillion years ago. It is the ultimate Italian cookbook. We haven't used it to its full potential, but have had some brilliant pasta dishes from it. 

Here is the recipe as it (mostly) appears in the book... 

500g ripe vine tomatoes, peeled seeded and chopped
4 tbsp Olive Oil 
10 fresh Basil leaves, chopped
2 cloves Garlic, cut in half
350g / box of Spaghetti 

Put tomatoes in a bowl with oil, basil and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well and put aside for 30 minutes to allow flavors to develop. Discard garlic before adding tomatoes to pasta. 
Cook pasta until al dente. Drain spaghetti. Mix through tomato mix and serve at once. 

This dish is nicer using a white wheat spaghetti. The flavors are delicate and I don't feel are robust enough to suit wholemeal pasta. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013


In the full swing of yoghurt production.... It seems my family can't get enough. 
After several days waiting, we had a very small offering of Labna. See my post here for the recipe (scroll down). 
The herb coating was a mixture of parsley, oregano, rosemary and thyme. Sounds a little like a Simon & Garfunkle mix!
Mr Don't-like-yoghurt was willing to give it a try (without knowing the cheese's origins), but after eating it for a while, didn't want to eat any more... potential allergy?!?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Baked Black Beans

The Baked Beans in America are so very different from the Baked Beans we grew up. The beans of our childhood were largely the Heinz Variety of beans. These beans were most definitely a breakfast accompaniment or a fast weekend meal or after-school snack. Childhood beans were savory, tomatoey, straightforward, with a hint of sweetness, came out of a can and were served on toast or with a good ol' fry-up

To wander down the aisle of a supermarket here, one is assaulted by the myriad beans available. Beans here are much more of a staple and served with the main meal - mostly with a traditional BBQ (i.e. pulled pork, ribs, etc.). Beans are typically sweet, smokey, meaty and hearty. 

Paul has been experimenting with baked beans - and largely does this with an ad-hoc taste-as-you-cook approach. I have tried to quantify a recipe and have developed the one below. I used this Boston Baked Beans recipe as the basis. 
I chose to use Black Beans as I have been looking into the health benefits of these, these are a bean that Paul tolerates and... I had some pre-prepared black beans in the freezer! I had previously cooked a big batch of beans (after soaking), with a strip of Kombu and after draining, had frozen these in containers (each with 2 cups).

We had found a bacon-type product on our recent trip to North Carolina, and used this in the recipe. We think it was a slab of bacon or smoked pork? Regardless, it was able to be chopped in thick chunks that added to the 'heartiness' of this dish. 
2 cups cooked black beans
6 oz bacon, sliced into thick chunks
1 diced Onion
3 tbsp Mollasses
2 tbsp Tomato Paste
1 tbsp Worcestshire Sauce
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp Kosher salt
3 tbsp Brown Sugar
2 tbsp Bourbon
1/4 cup water (approx).

Place prepared beans, chopped bacon and onion into a 2 litre / 2 quart dutch oven and stir to combine. 

Place Molasses, Tomato Paste, Worcestershire Sauce, Mustard, Pepper, Salt and Sugar into a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to combine. Add bourbon and pour over beans. Add more water as necessary (to moisten beans but not cover them). 

Bring beans to a boil. Reduce to a slow simmer, cover and cook for 2½ to 3 hours, stirring from time to time, until bacon has softened and a rich gravy has formed. 
beans served with a corn muffin
The tablespoon measure I used was an imperial measure (15ml - or the equivalent of 3 teaspoons). 

Paul likes to add some Liquid Smoke to his beans for a more intense smokey flavor. The liquid smoke would provide a smokey flavor for a vegetarian version of this dish - cooked without the bacon. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

In the attempt to get more whole grains into classic foods... that the kids will not object to, I have been playing around with some ingredients. 

This recipe is loosely based on the recipe I found here. I used imperial cup measurements - but this should translate well to metric. 

½ cup (1 stick) butter
¼ cup white sugar
½ cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup wholegrain flour
1 ¼ cup rolled oats
½ cup golden flaxseed meal
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
¾ cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325℉.
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. 

Using a blender, pulse the oats a few times until they look like course crumbs. 

Mix flour, blended oats, flaxseed, baking soda and salt together to combine. Fold into butter-sugar mix and mix through until a firm dough is formed. Stir through chocolate chips. 
Using a scoop (I use a ½ oz or 15ml tbsp measuring spoon), portion cookie dough and roll into balls. Place dough balls on cookie tray and slightly flatten. Bake for approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes on tray before transferring to wire rack to cool completely. 
Using a 15ml measure, this recipe makes approximately 28 cookies. 
Chopped walnuts would be a great addition - ½ to ¾ cup added with the chocolate chips. 
I will try these again with some 'unblended' oats - perhaps half the amount blended and mixed with the flour and the other half unblended and added with the chocolate chips. 

Monday, July 8, 2013


image of eastern North Carolina - from Google Maps
We have returned from our very first visit to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This is THE beach vacation destination for people living in this part of the world who are not traveling to Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, Florida or Cancun... or some exotic Caribbean Island (that is not Cuba). Great big thanks to Rob & Val for their very gracious invitation :-)
northern 'Outer Banks' -  from Google Maps
The North Carolina coast is unique for its 'barrier islands' stretching along the majority of the State's coastline. These islands are narrow and offer protection to the mainland from the Atlantic Ocean. As a consequence, these islands bear the brunt of much hurricane activity and are subject to massive erosion. The shape and form of the islands therefore is very fluid and dynamic. I had a lecturer at QUT heavily involved in the research of dune transgression on Fraser Island - who made this natural phenomenon very apparent to her students. 

The islands' populations boom during the summer months and are home to a small population during the off-season - largely of the equine variety! There remains a population of wild horses - descendants of horses arriving some 500 years ago from Spanish explorers and shipwrecks. 

The coast is well-known for its shipwrecks and has earned the title 'The Graveyard of the Atlantic'. Several lighthouses were constructed to assist with navigation through these perilous waters. 

The islands are also well-known for the township of Kitty Hawk - a name synonymous with the Wright Brothers and their first forays into flight. We took a rainy-day excursion to Kill Devil Hills to visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial and Museum
kids assist Orville Wright in his history-making flight
We did manage to fit in the obligatory beach pursuits of: building sandcastles, flying kites, riding boogie boards, being dumped by waves, eating fish and chips, witnessing the 4th of July Fireworks display (and subsequent horrendous traffic jam), slurping ice-cream, chasing crabs, collecting shells, sipping Pina Coladas... none of which were documented as I didn't want to sand-log my camera. 

The Islands are stunning, with beautiful sand beaches. We spent our time around Corolla where development is low-key and more human scale (even though all housing is three levels high!). I did however, note numerous missed opportunities to improve the amenity of development - and keep it true to its low-key nature through the promotion of passive means of transport. Namely the inclusion of pedestrian linkages and provision of evidently shared carriageways. Vehicles and pedestrians laden with beach paraphernalia (shade structures, seats, towels, boogie boards, kites, coolers, etc.) currently share road lanes, that are not pedestrian-friendly. Retail catered predominantly to vehicles and there were many lost opportunities to support a 'village feel' through alfresco dining, public plazas and spaces to meet. Bicycle lane provision was spasmodic and not integrated - particularly between settlements. Place-makers and simple way-finding devices are lacking - these would particularly be of use along the beachfront (might have really helped during my beach runs!). A quick visit seemed to indicate that the 'township' of Duck has a more successful urban-beachscape mix. A drive down south to Kill Devil Hills indicated more intensive settlement - strip malls and no sense of place. 

Of course, this analysis will require further observational visits ;-) 
visit to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse

Saturday, July 6, 2013


creamy homemade greek yoghurt
I have always wanted to make my own yoghurt, but always thought I needed a large thermos container or specialist piece of equipment. I was researching such a container that seemed affordable. I read the Amazon reviews and came across a very insightful one that basically said that no special equipment was necessary. AT ALL. 

I then went in search of some recipes. I came across this one first and decided to give it a try. The result was great. However, with a long time on the heat, without stirring, the milk formed a skin - and this ended up in the yoghurt. I really cannot abide anything that interrupts the smooth texture of a soft food: skin on a custard, bits in orange juice, undisolved gelatin in a dessert... so did some more research. I found several recipes that appeared to be much faster, so decided to try again. The one I ended up following mostly was the recipe here

After several attempts, all successful, I now consider myself to be a yoghurt maker. It is far easier than I originally thought. The only concern is planning ahead as the yoghurt needs to sit at room temperature for 10 to 12 hours before refrigerating... so not a great recipe to try late in the day... unless you actually want to get up early to put the yoghurt in the fridge. Also... one must actually leave enough yoghurt to start the next batch - this has proved to be difficult with my yoghurt-loving husband and daughter demolishing the yoghurt as fast as I make it. 

4 cups Milk 
¼ cup Yoghurt

Sterilize a large glass, sealable jar (1 quart/1 litre capacity) by filling with boiling water and standing for several minutes. Pour out water, drain and let dry.

Heat milk in a heavy saucepan over medium heat until it reaches 185℉ (85℃) on a candy thermometer, stirring occasionally to ensure milk is heated consistently.

Remove milk from heat and allow to cool. Cooling process may be sped up by placing saucepan in a bath of iced water. Once milk temperature drops to 115℉ (45℃), remove a ¼ cup of the milk and mix into yoghurt to thin.
Gently stir milk-yoghurt mix into saucepan of milk. Strain milk mixture into sterilized bottle through a sieve to remove any milk solids or skin that may have formed.
Seal bottle and wrap in a tea towel to keep warm. Place wrapped bottle in a warm place, undisturbed for 10 to 12 hours.
Refrigerate. Enjoy!

Quantities are proportional so work with either metric or imperial measurements. 
An ideal warm space in our kitchen is under our overhead cabinets with the under-cabinet light on. Some writers suggest an oven, preheated for a minute, with the oven light left on. 
The longer the yoghurt is left to stand before refrigeration will affect the acidity level. Leave longer if a more acidic flavor is desired.
I use 2% (low fat) milk - simply because that is what I usually have on hand. This would be brilliant using the lovely Barambah milk we were able to buy in Brisbane... or fresh milk directly from the cow that I had access to for YEARS - but had absolutely no appreciation of!

To make Greek Yoghurt, put the prepared yoghurt in a cheesecloth/muslin-lined sieve placed over a bowl, and refrigerate several hours. The drained whey will collect in the bowl beneath. The longer the yoghurt drains, the thicker/firmer the yoghurt becomes.
This is a Middle Eastern 'Cheese'. I have made it for a number of years using store-bought yoghurt and Stephanie Alexander's suggestions. It is very simple and made using the same method for Greek Yoghurt. 

Simply mix a tablespoon (or to taste) good quality salt (I like crushed Malden Sea Salt) through 600ml of yoghurt. Place in a cheesecloth/muslin-lined sieve placed over a bowl in the refrigerator. Drain for 2 to 3 days. Once 'cheese' is firm enough, scoop into small walnut-size balls and roll in freshly chopped herbs. Place balls in a sterilized glass jar and cover with olive oil. Let stand at room temperature for at least 24 hours. Use within a week or two. I used chopped parsley and chives. Fresh Rosemary or Oregano would be lovely. Crushed seeds or Za'atar would be great. This recipe suggests lemon rind, thyme and mint. Add some herbs, citrus peel or cloves of peeled garlic to the oil to add flavor to the cheese and to end up with a tasty oil to use as a dressing. 

I serve these balls to spread onto crusty fresh bread. My friends Craig and Tania would rave to people about me making my own cheese. I felt that the gushing was somewhat undeserved... I mean, it is SO very simple to make! 

There are a number of uses for drained whey. This website and this website list several uses to explore and experiment with.
Interestingly, large producers of Greek yoghurt are struggling to find uses for huge volumes of discarded whey - discussed in this article