Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Muffins on Cockatoo Island

I've swapped sunny England for rainy Sydney (yes, you read that correctly) to come and visit my friend Sarah. She's suffering from a touch of RSI at the moment so I've been given the keys to the blog in order to share some of the new heights of culinary expertise lucky Billie has been getting her newly-arrived incisors into.                             

I'm happy to report that it's all true, by the way - Sarah really does spend a lot of time creating delicious new dishes and Billie tries all of them. I was greeted last night by a massive helping of chili and a slice of steaming cornbread (officially my new favourite thing) which cut through my jet lag nicely. This morning I found Ms. Allely making her own muesli, using exotic ingredients like coconut oil to transform oats and nuts into a sweet, toasted treat served with yoghurt and freshly sliced apple. While she crunched up nuts and melted honey, I attempted to feed Billie and Billie attempted to cover me, the table, the floor and herself in porridge, while still somehow managing to remain adorable.

The best recipe so far has been feta and spinach muffins, which were thrown together in oh, y'know, half an hour, and taken with us on a visit the Sydney Biennale on Cockatoo Island. Most of them were hoovered up by the time we made it onto the ferry, but we managed to save a few for when we actually felt we deserved lunch.



Sarah has just whispered 'shall I make us a little desert?' so I'd better sign off in order not to miss the next exciting eating event.

Emma Rubach (Billie Bites British Correspondent and chief taster - apart from Billie and Miles that is.)




SPINACH AND FETA MUFFINS

Here's a basic muffin recipe adapted from one emailed to me by Hannah while I was in the midst of a pregnancy induced muffin-making frenzy. You can add sweet or savory flavours, what ever you fancy, to this very versatile recipe. 

100 g self-raising plain flour 
120 g self-raising wholemeal flour 
Two eggs, beaten
 3/4 cup milk 
1/2 cup vegetable oil 

200g feta, crumbled into small pieces about the size of your little fingernail.
Small bunch of chopped spinach (about two big handfuls) 

Grease, with butter, 12 muffin tins; preheat oven to 220 c. Sieve flour into a large bowl, add dry ingredients, in this case the spinach and cheese. In a small bowl, mix the eggs, milk and oil together (and any wet ingredients if you're using them - tomatoes, berries, what have you). Make a well in the dry ingredients and quickly but gently mix in the wet ingredients. Immediately spoon into the baking tins and place in the centre of the oven. Check after 15 minutes and remove when lightly browned on top. Up end onto a wire rack and eat while warm or pack for a picnic.

CORN, COURGETTE AND CHEDDAR MUFFINS

As requested by Cara, simply add two cups of grated courgette (three small courgettes) one cup of grated cheddar, the kernals of one corn cob to the above recipe.

RHUBARB PEAR AND GINGER MUFFINS
One pear chopped finely, two cups finely sliced rhubarb, half a tablespoon of fresh grated ginger, a tea-spoon of ground ginger and half a cup of sugar. 






Thursday, May 13, 2010

WONDER BALLS

Arancini balls were something I ordered off menus, and devoured with the blissful belief that they were definitely in the don't-try-at-home basket.

But then I went to a one-year-old's birthday party a few Saturdays ago and the mystery was removed. Lewis' big sister Charlie pulled a tray of -so-perfect-they-looked-bought arancini balls from the oven and dismissed them as if they were as easy as pie...

A new challenge was presented, and I rose. This doubled nicely with a related challenge from reader/mother/cook Deb who boasted of making risotto twice last week with little Milo in the Ergo. I didn't bother to google a recipe - I never do that, it somehow seems like cheating, or too much  hard work. Much more fun to stumble around in the kitchen and surprise yourself.

They were perfect. Even more satisfying than removing a perfect pie from the oven. And the perfect thing for a Friday late lunch on the balcony in winter sun.

Billie ate pieces of the roast pumpkin while I finished the risotto, and then tried some risotto before I balled it up. Unfortunately she just swallowed it all whole, so her next serving at dinner was blended.

Charlie had made mushroom but we had pumpkin in the fridge - and it's also one of my favorite risottos. I think if you really want to get tricky, restaurants often stick a lump of mozzarella cheese in the middle. Next time.

NOTE: If making with baby on board, start early. Do it in stages. In fact, everyone should make the risotto a bit earlier as it balls up much better once cool.


PUMPKIN AND LEEK ARANCINI BALLS

2 T olive oil
2 T butter
2 leeks, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups arborio or other risotto rice
100 ml white wine (optional)
1 litre water, boiled
1 stock cube
1/4 pumpkin, chopped into small pieces
1 cup vintage cheddar - or 1/2 cheddar 1/2 parmesan
2 eggs, beaten
plain flour
dry fine bread crumbs


 First make the risotto (as early as possible so has time to cool). Heat  olive oil and butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add leeks and saute for few mins, stirring regularly. Boil water and add stock, then place in small pan with lid, on low heat on stove. Add rice and stir continuously for 30 seconds. Add wine and stir. Turn heat to medium low and add ladle of stock. Stir, then leave for about 30 seconds before stirring again. When mostly absorbed, add another ladle of stock, and continue this process until stock all used and rice al dente. NOTE: This has to be a DRY risotto, rather than a sloppy one. Also it's not pertinent that the stock be added in such small amounts as you would a regular risotto, making it a little quicker. But avoid flooding it with too much water at once. 

Meanwhile, rub pumpkin pieces in olive oil and place in single layer on a tray to roast in hot oven for 30 minutes. You can flip half way through, but not essential. Pumpkin should be very soft.

Stir cheese through finished risotto and then add pumpkin, mixing well so much of it blends through the rice. Set aside until cool (doesn't need to be cold, just the cooler the better).

Place beaten eggs in a small deep bowl. Half fill a small wide bowl with flour, and another with breadcrumbs. It's best not to put too much in at once so that half-way through the bowls can be cleaned of all the eggy muck. Have on hand two large plates.

Time to roll: Roll up your sleeves,  scoop out a heaped T of risotto and roll between your wet hands. Roll in flour briefly and gently, then place on a plate. Roll and flour all the balls, before the next stage. This avoids too much mess and hand washing. Next dip the balls in the egg, closely followed by the breadcrumbs. Place on the other plate.

Put aside spare balls for future meals and place what you want to eat now on a well-oiled tray and bake for 20 mins in hot oven. Remove once crispy. Serve with a green salad with tomatoes, or some other greenery. 

These cooked up very well the next evening.   

Billie contemplating the arancini balls

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

BABIES ONLY - BUT DON'T GO AWAY...

Where did that week go? By tomorrow it'll be almost a week since my last entry. But fear not - I have not left the kitchen. Just the computer - I've got blogging RSI.

Stay tuned for my first experiment with arancini balls, Billie's nutty foray, another take on burritos, a recipe to go with the muffin eye candy, and a journey into quick meals with a low dishes ratio.

Yes, this little project is exhausting the dish-washers of the house (Miles and I, Billie too short still) and now he's away in WA it's time to dream up creations that use the stove not the oven, and one pot instead of five.

 There's been a few recipe requests - so I'm going to start up a page to fulfill such needs. But tonight's one deserves its own - and can be found here:

billiebites.blogspot.com/p/babies-only.html

Starter ideas for babies new to solids. Go forth and mush.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

PERFECT PIE, CINNAMON PINWHEELS and HAPPY EIGHT-MONTH B'DAY

There's nothing more satisfying, in the kitchen, than serving a pie hot out of the oven. Particularly a perfect pie. Last night we marveled at it for several minutes before tasting. And yes, it tasted even better than it looked. Billie devoured hers.

If you're expecting pastry here you may be disappointed. In my world there are many types of pie, and the pastry version is just one - albeit one of my favorites.

Not everyone sees it this way.  When a friend visiting last year from Chicago arrived for dinner he said he was very curious about "this pie" I had promised. When Brian saw the polenta tomato bake he laughed and said, "that's not a pie". In the United States pies are usually sweet, or if they are savoury they are called pot pies and normally contain chicken.

Last night's pie - delicious tonight as leftovers - involved ahem more polenta, mushrooms and cheese sauce. This is adapted from a fantastic New Zealand Italian cook - Julie Biuso.

As my first attempt at her recipe I was rather pleased with the result. Especially at my new discovery that polenta can take on a bit of a sponge cake look and feel if done like this: I doubled the water,  cooked it for longer but importantly poured into trays while still runny. So the finished product was much lighter and airy. I've turned over a new leaf - I will always make polenta for pies in this way.


MUSHROOM POLENTA PIE

250g polenta
2 litres water
1/2 tspn salt
70g butter
6 T flour
500ml full cream milk
salt
freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
large knob of butter
300g mushrooms, sliced

First make the polenta (this can be done ahead of time). Grease the oven dish, 30cmx30cm or equivalent. Also grease a second tray (can be plastic, as not going in oven). Bring the water to the boil, then sprinkle in polenta, stirring as you go. Turn heat down to very low and stir until thickened, but still quite runny (you should NOT  be able to stand a spoon up in it). Pour half into greased oven dish and other half onto tray, so both are about the same size. Smooth over and leave to set. 

Preheat oven to 220c. Meanwhile, melt the first lot of butter in small pot and add flour. Gradually add milk, stirring constantly. Bring to the boil, stirring all the while. Turn to low and simmer for one minute or so, still stirring. Remove from heat and add pepper, nutmeg, 4 T of the paremsan and 3/4 tspn salt. Cover and set aside. 

Heat large frying pan on high and add large knob of butter. When melted, add mushrooms and cook on high for a few mins, until lightly browned and liquid absorbed (mushrooms produce quite a bit, and need to be cooked on high to avoid just going soggy). 

Time to layer up. Spread half the mushrooms on top of the polenta in the oven dish. Cover with half the bechamel sauce and half the remaining parmesan. Place the other slab of polenta on top, followed by the rest of the mushrooms, sauce and finally cheese. 

Bake for 30 minutes or until golden and bubbling on top. We ate it both nights with steamed French green beans. Anything green would do though. And it reheats in the oven very well.



Did someone mention a birthday? Well, little Ms Billie turned 8-months today. To celebrate, she had her first cracker. I was impressed how swiftly she got rid of it. Without any choking noises. And they were crunchy crackers.

But later at the park with friends she noticed she was missing out on the celebratory pinwheel scones. She's a fast mover. In a split second she grabbed one-year-old Henry's piece of scone and almost had it in her mouth. But her mother foiled her sugary grab and handed her back a bite of scone minus the sugar filling. Billie didn't notice what she wasn't missing.

This is an easy old classic, you can play around with the size and amount of sugar/butter/cinnamon filling.

CINNAMON PINWHEEL SCONES

First make a basic scone dough. If you don't have your own try this. The key to scones is speed. Don't start until the baby is asleep.


Before making the scone dough prepare the filling. Melt 80g butter and mix with 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup white sugar and  tspn cinnamon.

250g self-raising flour (a mix of white and wholemeal)
40g butter, at room temperature - or soft
pinch of salt
150 ml milk
a little extra flour

Preheat oven to 220c. Grease a baking sheet or tray. Sift flour into bowl, add butter and rub with fingers to combine. Add salt and then use a knife to mix in milk gradually. Flour hands and knead into a ball - it should be very wet, but not so much that you can't handle it. Add little more milk if necessary. Roll dough out on a floured bench or board and roll thinly - about 30cm x 20xm.

Now spread cinnamon mixture fairly evenly over dough, leaving about 2cm uncovered on long side away from you. Wet this with water then roll tightly, finishing with wet edge so sticks. Slice into eight pieces, place on tray and bake near top of oven for 15 mins or until lightly browned top and bottom.

Cool on wire rack and eat as soon as possible. No butter, jam or cream needed. Just a nice cup of tea.


                                          Billie and her fellow-8-month-old friend Marilla

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

AUTUMN GOODS

Now's the time to make every aubergine (eggplant) and courgette (zucchini) meal you can think of. This French classic,  the Provencal vegetable stew, is the perfect Autumn dinner. Tonight we blended Billie's into a yummy dip, and devoured ours with fresh sour dough bread and hot browned haloumi.  Cous cous and feta make great accompaniments too. Even rice or pasta will work.

Traditionally Ratatouille is made on the stove top, with all the ingredients stewed together. However, it's quite a challenge to avoid ending up with mush. And I have a particular aversion to soggy or even under-cooked aubergine. The only way to cook it is in a single layer in a hot oven, wiped with oil. Flip it half way through and remove when brown and crispy.


 RATATOUILLE

1 medium-large aubergine/eggplant
2 courgettes/zucchini
1/2 red pepper (capsicum)
1/2 green pepper (capsicum)
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
olive oil
400g tin tomatoes
handful fresh basil, chopped or torn
1/4 -1/2 tspn brown sugar
salt and black pepper
Haloumi - or feta if not available -
Fresh crusty bread, cous cous, rice or pasta

First prepare the aubergine slices. Normally I don't bother with the salting/draining routine, but for Ratatouille it's more necessary to remove some of those bitter juices. So, slice into thick 2cm rounds. Place in colander, sprinkling each layer with salt. Next slice the courgettes into 2cm rounds, and place in the colander with more salt. Top with a plate that fits and weigh down with something heavy. Leave for as long as you can (tonight Billie was hungry so it was only about 15mins, but up to an hour is good). Place on paper towels to dry and then wipe one side with oil and place the other side on greased oven tray. Bake just the aubergine in hot oven for about 20 mins, turning half way though, or until browned and crispy. Remove and cut in quarters. 

Meanwhile, heat 3 T olive oil in heavy-based pot. Saute onion and garlic for 5 mins. Keep heat on medium and add chopped peppers, cook for few mins, then add courgettes and cook a few more minutes. Add tin of tomatoes (chopped, with juices) and stir well. Add sugar (optional) and black pepper and basil. Cook for 10-15 minutes, starting with the lid on but removing after 5 mins. If using cous cous, rice or pasta - cook it now. Otherwise butter fresh bread slices. Add aubergine pieces to stew and gently stir,  heating through. Remove portion for baby, then salt to taste.

Just before serving, heat heavy fry pan with 1/2 T oil and when hot add haloumi slices. Cook on medium-high for 5 mins each side, until browned. Important note: Don't cook haloumi in non-stick pan - it will melt and turn into a big blob.

Serve haloumi slices on top of Ratatouille, with a little lemon squeezed over. MUST be eaten immediately. If using feta, just crumble over before serving.


Monday, May 3, 2010

BEAN FEST - AND A NEW LOVE AFFAIR WITH TOAST

It started with minestrone and finished with kumara and black bean burritos. Check out three fantastic recipes below - don't miss the unusual but very tasty burrito.

The mini bean festival was unplanned. But after a weekend of feasting on various beans, I can confidently say that legumes do not increase Billie's flatulence. Or ours.

Before we got started on the beans though, a significant introduction was made. On Friday morning I decided it was time. Billie could now meet that easy addiction - BREAD. It was also her first foray with wheat. And ever since she has been knocking toast back like it's the best thing since sliced....

Billie has been hankering to feed herself, but despite her capability of placing her spoon in her mouth I don't trust her ability to get much food in there. So, toast soldiers for the teething eager nearly-8-month-old are the perfect new food. As a chaser to her millet porridge the toast sticks keep her happy in her high chair while I prepare my own breakfast.


BACK TO BEANS

After plunging back into the baby books last week I emerged on a mission to put away the blender, stick to the fork, and try to create more meals that Billie could share, as is.

Various parts of Italy produce their versions of MINESTRONE SOUP. Some use rice, some pasta, some kidney beans, some white beans. I tend to leave out the pasta, and for Billie's first experience I opted for the very soft and malleable cannellini beans. I made a great, easy nut-free pesto to stir through.

MINESTRONE WITH PESTO

1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 carrot, sliced
2 celery sticks, thinly sliced
3 T olive oil
2 courgettes, sliced into chunky rounds
2 potatoes, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1/4 pumpkin, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 broccoli head, cut into florets and then stalk cut into small chunks
1.5 litres of water
1 stock cube (I usually use 2 but too salty for baby - up the salt later)
1 tin tomatoes
1 tin cannellini beans 
2 T tomato paste (unsalted if possible)
1 bay leaf (optional)
1 T chopped fresh oregano (optional)
 Black pepper
1/2-1 cup fresh grated parmesan
 PESTO: You can simply stir through fresh chopped basil and fresh grated parmesan, or make some quick pesto. Place a large bunch of basil, 1 cup of grated parmesan, 4 T olive oil, and 2 cloves of garlic into food processor and blend. Add a generous dollop to each bowl of soup before serving. Billie had hers without but that was only because I was still making it when her hunger pangs reached significant levels.

SOUP: Heat oil in large, heavy pot. Saute onion, garlic, celery and then carrots. Add tomatoes and paste, water and stock. Bring to boil and then simmer on low. Add potatoes, then pumpkin, courgette and lastly broccoli. Cook with lid off for about 30 mins, or until vegetables are soft but not falling apart. Meanwhile, make pesto. Add beans and check for seasoning. If serving to baby remove portion before adding any salt. Ladle into bowls and stir through bit of the extra parmesan and then pesto.

A NOTE ON MINESTRONE: Once the vegetables are cooked the soup needs to be served as soon as possible, otherwise they will overcook. It's not one to leave stewing endlessly. This makes quite a large batch so remove what will likely be used tomorrow and only reheat what is needed now.

A great store cupboard staple are canned cannellini beans. A fabulous quick lunch for anyone, but useful for babies, is this easy Cannellini Bean Pate. This is from Rose Elliot's Vegetarian Express, I've just adapted it slightly.

CANNELLINI  BEAN PATE

1 can cannellini beans
1 glove garlic
1 T lemon juice
1 T Tahini (sesame seed paste) - optional-
1 T olive oil
1 T chopped fresh oregano
little black pepper

Place all ingredients in food processor, or use a stick hand blender, and process til smooth. After serving to baby, add a little salt to adult portions. Serve as is to baby, with bread or corn chips for adults.

I hope you made it this far, because here is the best recipe I have discovered in ages. Proof it's worth returning to the cook books every now and again for fresh inspiration.

This is slightly adapted from a wee gem of a book, Hot Damn and Hell Yeah. Miles picked it up from a second hand store in Armidale, but it's a self-published American classic by Ryan Splint and Vanessa Johnson.

Burritos are generally made about once a week in our house. But until last night, I hadn't found a way to bring Billie in on the experience. My standard burrito involves chili beans with lots of tomato - so not really Billie's cup of tea yet. But this brilliant meal below is very baby-friendly. (Just the filling and yoghurt - the salsa is adults only and Billie's hands are too small to get around a chunky burrito).



BLACK BEAN AND SWEET POTATO BURRITOS WITH SALSA

Packet of flour tortillas
Plain yoghurt
Bunch fresh coriander, chopped
1 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
3 T peanut butter (ADD AFTER SERVED TO BABY, unless already on peanuts)
1 tspn cumin
1/2 tspn cinnamon
1 large sweet potato, chopped and steamed
2 cups black beans, cooked and drained - or 2 tins
 SALSA:
1 can tomatoes
1 cup water
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped
1 Spanish onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1/3 cup tomato paste
1/4 tspn salt
2 T cider or white vinegar
1 garlic clove, crushed
3 T chopped jalapeno peppers (for a medium heat)


Soak beans in three times as much water for three hours and then cook for 1 1/4 hours, until soft. Drain and refresh in cold water immediately.

Make salsa. Combine ingredients in heavy pot over medium heat. Bring to boil then reduce heat and simmer on very low for 45min or until thickened. It tastes even better the next day. Use warm on burritos and then store in fridge.

Burritos: Heat oil in frying pan and saute onion and garlic over medium heat until soft. Add spices. Stir in beans and sweet potato, mashing slightly. (If making for baby, make sure beans are well mashed before adding). Spoon serving out for baby before adding peanut butter, if necessary. Mix well, cooking for a few minutes until combined and heated through. 


Heat a small amount of oil in large frying pan and warm tortillas for a minute each side - less once the pan gets really hot. Immediately fill with a generous portion of bean mash, topping with lots of warm salsa, a good dollop of yoghurt and a handful of coriander. Make sure you place all the ingredients in the centre of the tortilla. Fold one side over, followed by each end and then the last side, so you have a contained parcel. Eat.






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