Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Sun-dried tomato and herb bread

While I don’t have a problem with the breadmaking process – long as it takes – what’s really hard to deal with is getting bread to rise when it’s cold. It’s a cruel truth that in the months when warm bread and carbs, carbs and more carbs are what your body craves as you wrap up warm with blankets and hot water bottles, it’s not always easy to find a warm spot to let bread dough rise.

The warm place I created and fenced off was unfortunately where my two cats like to sit (being a warm place and all…), so I made this bread into pan-shaped loaves rather than fancy rounds or baguettes to give them extra protection from curious paws (they once stepped in a rising foccacia loaf on a baking tray while en route to a windowsill – I blame myself for the lack of foresight, really).

(makes two loaves)

2 cups (500ml) very warm water
4 cups (545g) bread flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 package yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons Italian seasoning (mixed herbs)
½ cup finely-chopped sun-dried tomatoes (sorry, forgot to weigh this one - I used about 10 of varying sizes)

1. Put the yeast, sugar, 2 cups of the flour and water into a large bowl. Use an electric/handheld mixer to blend it together, scraping the sides to make sure it is mixed thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap (cling film) and leave for an hour, until mixture is bubbling and has expanded in size.

2. Pour the mixture into a mixing bowl. Using a dough hook if possible, mix in the oil, salt, tomatoes and Italian seasoing (mixed herbs). Add the flour a bit at a time, then turn the dough onto a board and knead for 5-8 minutes or until smooth and springy. Add flour as necessary while kneading.

3. Put the dough into a greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place for about an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.

4. Divide the dough in half. Roll each half into a rectangle, then roll the rectangles tightly, tucking in the ends as you move along. Pinch the edge into the dough to create a smooth, neat seal. Put each dough roll into a loaf pan, cover and let rise in a warm place for about an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.

5. Preheat the oven to 425F (220C). Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when tapped.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Chickpea, lime and vegetable soup

To save money as well as the sometimes agonising decision of what to have for lunch, I try to make a large pot of soup on weekends to take to work during the week. It’s usually just a bunch of vegetables thrown into some tomato sauce and stock, but this week I decided to put a little more effort into it.

I thought the ground nut (peanut) oil would bring out the nutty flavour of the chickpeas, while the sweet potato would make the broth thick and hearty. The lime juice and cumin give it a little kick, which I usually need around lunchtime to get me through to my afternoon cup of industrial-strength coffee, which gets me through to the train journey home…you know how it is.

Makes about 3-4 generous bowlfuls (can be eeked out a bit more by pouring over a small amount of rice)

2-3 tablespoons of ground nut (peanut) oil
2 onions
3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 red pepper
4 small to medium-sized carrots, chopped
1 package of fine green beans (about two large handfuls), chopped
2 lumps of frozen spinach (can add to the soup frozen or defrosted)
1 sweet potato, baked and mashed
2 teaspoons cumin
2 ½ teaspoons oregano
Pepper to taste
1 box/can of crushed tomatoes
1 can of chickpeas
½ litre of vegetable stock (I used a packet of Knorr vegetable stock gel)
5 tablespoons of lime juice

1. Heat the oil. Fry the onions until brown, then add the garlic. Let fry for 1-2 minutes, then add the red pepper. After a few minutes more, add the crushed tomatoes and vegetable stock. Season with pepper, if desired.

2. While the soup heats back up, chop the carrots and green beans and add in. Stir in the chickpeas and spinach. Cover the pot.

3. Let the soup simmer for 5-10 minutes before adding the sweet potato, cumin and oregano.

4. Let simmer for 10 minutes more, then add the lime juice. Simmer for another 5-10 minutes, or as desired.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Chocolate cheesecake brownies

New year, new brownie!

The amazing brownie proves its worth at every bake sale that’s ever taken place since the dawn of time. Ok, perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but I know at my school’s bake sales there were always at least three kinds of brownies (including blonde) cut in all different sizes and priced at 50 cents. Every now and then, if someone’s mum was very kind, there would be a cream cheese swirl brownie as well. While I’ve never been able to master the art of marbling the brownie and cream cheese batter as you see in the cookbooks, the mix of soft cheesecake and chewey brownie is hard to say no to.

My contribution to Christmas dinner was a chocolate cheesecake with raspberry sauce, which got me thinking about these delightful cream cheese brownies and how they could be even better if the cheesecake part were chocolate too. However, getting it right took a few tries, and even now you can’t really tell that there’s a cheesecake layer in them (being the same colour and all…), but the result is basically a gooey brownie with an extra shot of chocolate. Goes very well with leftover mulled wine…

Incidentally, I bake brownies in the ingenious Edge brownie pan, which actually made this recipe 10 times harder with trying to spread each layer around all the curves and bends. I highly recommend it for anything else, though – it cooks really evenly (which is saying a lot for our temperamental, broken-seal, ‘work-when-I-feel-like-it’ oven) and is very easy to clean.

Oh, and yes, that lovely blue item in the background is my brand new Kitchenaid mixer – a Christmas gift from T that’s earned him these and many more brownies to come.

Ingredients for the brownie batter:
¾ cup (170g) butter
5oz (140g) unsweetened baking chocolate
1 cups (270g) sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1¼ cups (155g) flour
¼ teaspoon salt

Ingredients for the cheesecake batter:
12oz (340g) package of full-fat cream cheese
1 egg
¼ cup (50g) sugar
2oz (55g) unsweetened baking chocolate
½ cup (65g) flour

1. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Grease bottom and sides of a square baking pan.

2. Make the brownie batter first. Melt the butter and chocolate together over low heat, or in the microwave. Measure the sugar into a bowl and add in the chocolate, then the rest of the ingredients – one at a time – until blended.

3. Using an electric mixer, mix the cream cheese and egg well. With the beaters still running, add the sugar in graudally and leave mixing until well blended. Pour in the chocolate and stir into the mix, then add the flour.

4. In the prepared baking pan, pour about three-quarters of the brownie batter. Drop the cheesecake batter in spoonfuls on top and spread evenly, though not right to the edge of the pan. Pour the rest of the brownie batter on top in zigzags, swirls, etc. – don’t worry if it doesn’t cover all of the cheesecake layer.

5. Cook for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out with a few moist crumbs. Leave to cool before cutting