Saturday, January 30, 2010

My "Spanakopita"


Recently my family and I spent a relaxing week in the tropical northern city of Cairns. As we often do, we took the long way home, which means a drive up to the Atherton Tablelands. It is a beautiful area reminicent of the rolling hills of Tasmania, New Zealand or some have said England. It is also a food bowl for North Queensland producing fabulous dairy products, fruits and vegetables, peanuts, sugar cane, wines and coffee. We always pick up something delicious. At the Big Peanut Fruit stall we stopped for the obligatory bag of hot roasted peanuts. This time we chose the smoked variety. Munching and enjoying the view we came across a hand drawn sign that simply said "FIGS" and after following a dirt road past lychee, mango and fig trees we came across the farm house. Beautiful, plump, purple figs, rare for our part of the world, were for sale for $10 per kilo. Really, a steal. I bought a few kilos for myself and a few for my sister. Hubby patiently emptied the esky so that the figs had pride of place. Finally we made a stop a the Mungalli Creek Dairy to pick up some fresh cheeses before the drive south.


I chose a beautiful whole milk ricotta and award winning fetta which I knew were destined for spanakopita. I have been making spanakopita for years and always form the same spiral shape. I am not Greek and do not claim to make a traditional Spanakopita but what I do make is delicious and my family enjoy it and I'd like to share it with you.

It's not so much a recipe, as maybe a method and I often don't really measure but make do with the quantities I have so I'll do my best to give measurements. Please, don't feel that you are bound by measurements - this is not an exact science as it would be if you were making a sponge cake!

Have your oven preheated to 180C then take a brown onion and 3 cloves garlic, chop finely and saute in some olive oil until golden. Cool. Now you'll need some spinach. If you can buy fresh spinach (I can't!), remove the stalks and steam. Then squeeze out as much moisture as you can. Moisture is the enemy of spanakopita - if there can be one - because it will result in soggy pastry. If you can only purchase frozen spinach (that's me!) defrost and squeeze out the moisture. I know, frozen isn't the best but if that's all one can buy...... Ok, now you want a quantity, well about 330 g of cooked, squeezed spinach. Now chop it a bit and mix it with the cooled onion mixture, 325g ricotta, 300g crumbled fetta, about a cup of chopped flat leaf parsley, 4 or 5 tablespoons of grated parmesan or romano cheese, grated nutmeg, 3 beaten eggs, pepper and maybe a little pinch of salt, remembering that the fetta is in brine! It should look a bit like this.


Then you'll need a 500g packet of fillo pastry, preferably not the frozen type. Follow all the rules for fillo, you know, work quickly and keep the fillo covered with a clean towel. Take 4 sheets of fillo brushing with olive oil between each sheet. Spoon about 1/5 of the mixture along the long side, roll up and twist into a coil on a large oil baking tray. Don't panic if it splits a little - this is rustic, traditional cooking! Continue this way until you have used up all the mixture and your spanakopita looks like a large coiled sausage. Now, beat another egg and add a pinch of salt. Brush with the egg getting into all the joins. Make sure to use all of the egg. Bake it for about an hour by then it should be crispy brown all over and the gorgeous smell should be invading your house. Now you know it's ready. Let it cool a little to set then cut it into generous wedges and enjoy!

Oh, you may be wondering what I did with the figs ... well... that's for next time!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Canadian Sweet Treat






The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and http://www.nanaimo.ca/.


For the month of January we Daring Bakers were challenged to create this gorgeous Canadian treat to celebrate the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver as well as the Graham Wafers that are crushed and used in the base. January is always a busy month for me - coming off my son's birthday in December then Christmas followed by New Year, my daughter's birthday and traditionally the time we go away for a week or two not to mention getting ready for "back to school" . So I was pleased with the challenge as it is really quite simple and they would be perfect for my daughter birthday afternoon tea.


I had heard of Graham Crackers/Wafers but in Australia they are not available as far as I know. My son was excited because now he would have Graham crackers to make true American S'mores! Ahhh, such is the influence of Amercian media on regular Australian children. I must admit, I too, was curious.



Now, to begin, the Gluten Free Graham Wafer recipe required sweet rice flour, tapioca flour, and sorghum flour and as I live in a small regional town these are impossible to find. I did consider buying gluten free flour mix but as no one in my family is gluten intolerant it seemed a waste as this type of flour is expensive. Our host, Lauren, gave us free reign to use all purpose wheat flour as a substitute. Made as per the gluten free recipe many Daring Bakers found the mixture very sticky but with wheat flour this didn't seem as much of a problem.


I divided the mixture in half and rolled each portion out, cut it into rectangles and baked them without separating.



I have absolutely no idea what Graham wafers are suppose to taste like but these home baked variety are really good! These may be a little on the thick side and I didn't read the part that said "prick the wafers with a toothpick or a fork".


The Nanaimo bars are very high in butter content and no, that is not bad, it is indeed very, very good! However in a hot tropical climate I was sure they would melt very quickly so I made one small variation to the original recipe. Lauren's Nanaimo Bars call for the butter to be melted along with cocoa and sugar then the egg is stirred into the heated mixture to thicken and cook the egg slightly. Instead I cooled the butter mixture then stirred in the egg and remaining ingredients, pressed the mixture into my pan and baked it at 180C for 10 minutes. This really helped hold the base together when I served it.


Our host also gave us the option to interpret the recipe any way we wanted to so some Daring Bakers really used their imagination - think Peanut Butter Nanaimos, Nanaimo chocolates, Nanaimo trifle, Nanaimo cheesecake. I used this opportunity to flavour the filling with coffee which seemed to cut the sweetness of the filling. The Nanaimo Bars were a absolute hit with everyone who tried them. Yes, they are rich, decadent and must be high in fat and calories but hey, what the heck, they're mouthwateringly delicious and I will make these time and time again.
Thanks Lauren, this was just the kind of recipe I needed this month and to think that it is so scrumptious as well.

Oh, I almost forgot! You're probably wondering if we indeed tried S'mores. YES! Wow, so sweet but fun. It was all my son's dream come true - sweet biscuit, gooey marshmallow and melted milk chocolate. Don't ask how many he had!










Graham Wafers
2 1/2 cups all purpose wheat flour
1 cup (200 g) (7.1 ounces) Dark Brown Sugar, Lightly packed
1 teaspoon (5 mL) Baking soda
3/4 teaspoon (4 mL ) Salt
7 Tablespoons (100 g) (3 ½ ounces) Unsalted Butter (Cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen)
1/3 cup (80 mL) Honey, Mild-flavoured
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Milk
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Pure Vanilla Extract


Directions:

1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal. If making by hand, combine aforementioned dry ingredients with a whisk, then cut in butter until you have a coarse meal. No chunks of butter should be visible.

2. In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together the honey, milk and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture until the dough barely comes together. It will be soft and sticky.

3. Turn the dough onto a surface well-floured and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours, or overnight.

4. Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Flour the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be quite sticky, so flour as necessary. Cut into 4 by 4 inch squares. Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place wafers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.

5. Adjust the rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).

6. Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more flour and roll out the dough to get a couple more wafers.

7. Prick the wafers with toothpick or fork, not all the way through, in two or more rows.

8. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Might take less, and the starting location of each sheet may determine its required time. The ones that started on the bottom browned faster.

9. When cooled completely, place enough wafers in food processor to make 1 ¼ cups (300 mL) of crumbs. Another way to do this is to place in a large ziplock bag, force all air out and smash with a rolling pin until wafers are crumbs.


Nanaimo Bars


Bottom Layer

1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
1/4 cup (50 g) (1.8 ounces) Granulated Sugar
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Unsweetened Cocoa
1 Large Egg, Beaten
1 1/4 cups (300 mL) (160 g) (5.6 ounces) Graham Wafer Crumbs (See previous recipe)
1/2 cup (55 g) (1.9 ounces) Almonds (Any type, Finely chopped)
1 cup (130 g) (4.5 ounces) Coconut (Shredded, sweetened or unsweetened)


Middle Layer

1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Butter
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons (40 mL) Heavy Cream
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Vanilla Custard Powder (Such as Bird’s. Vanilla pudding mix may be substituted.)
2 cups (254 g) (8.9 ounces) Icing Sugar
(I added 2 teaspoons of instant coffee dissolved in 1 or 2 teaspoons of boiling water - cooled)

Top Layer
4 ounces (115 g) Semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons (28 g) (1 ounce) Butter

Directions:

1. For bottom Layer: Melt butter, sugar and cocoa in top of a double boiler. Cool. Add egg and stir in crumbs, nuts and coconut. Press firmly into a paper lined 8 by 8 inch pan. Bake at 180C for 10 minutes. Cool.

2. For Middle Layer: Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light in colour. Spread over bottom layer. Chill.

3. For Top Layer: Melt chocolate and unsalted butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, pour over middle layer and chill.
Cut into squares. Makes 20.

Additional Information:
These bars freeze very well, so don’t be afraid to pop some into the freezer.
The graham wafers may be kept in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.



Saturday, January 23, 2010

Passing on a blog award

Happy New Year! I know, I'm late.

Excuse #1: Computer troubles - can't be helped!

Excuse #2: My family and I have had a wonderful week away soaking up the sun and enjoying the Great Barrier Reef - much needed!

Now I'm back and have lots of ideas for recipes and look forward to enjoying my favourite food bloggers' recipes and discover new ones. But before I begin I am thrilled to pass on a blog award I received at the end of December.





To be truthful, I'm new to the food blogging world and didn't even know about awards! I started writing a food blog really only to post by Daring Bakers challenges but have found that I love sharing the food I cook. Having readers follow my blog seems incredible! So I was surprised but so honoured when one of my favourite food bloggers, Jill from Jillicious Discoveries presented this award to me! Thank you sooo much, Jill. I am humbled to receive an award from you. Jill is a master at creating the most wonderful desserts and I love her blog.

This award came with some fun instructions:

1) Post the award on your blog. Present this award to seven others whose blogs you find brilliant in content and/or design, or those who have encouraged you.

2) Tell those seven people they've been awarded HONEST SCRAP, inform them of these guidelines, and ask that they link back to you.

3) Share TEN HONEST THINGS about yourself.

Presenting to seven others whose blogs I find brilliant or who have encouraged me is not difficult there are so many. Here goes:

Julie at Willow Bird Baking (I love this blog for her recipes and the way Julie writes - I want to eat everything)

Ago at Pane, burro e marmellata (connects me with my Italian heritage - great food!)

Anita at Leave Room for Dessert (the blog title says it all)

Laura at Broxholm Road ( I have been following Laura for a little while and love what she does)

Susan at Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy (Love the layout and feel of this blog)

Trissa at Trissalicious (Great food and great ideas)

Audax at Audax Artifex (This guy has amazing knowledge regarding all things food)


Now the hard part - coming up with ten honest things about myself. These sort of questions have always been difficult for me but I'll have a go without thinking about it too much.

1. I love the colour red. I love everything red - clothes, cars, crockery, accessories, you name it. I just love red!

2. I love to read cookbooks particularly in bed or while munching on my breakfast much like others read the newspaper.

3. Speaking about reading, I have to read before I fall asleep even if it's really late.


4. While I like holidays I'm really a homebody. I look forward to coming home after holidays away.


5. I won't waste calories on food that simply isn't delicious! But on the other hand if the food is fabulous I just can't stop eating.

6. We don't have great distinctions between seasons. Basically just hot and wet or cold (ok, maybe cool is a better word) and dry but I really do look forward to the cool, dry weather after months of rain. And then after the dry winter I'm looking forward some heat and rain.


7. I can't stand ice in my drinks. I know it sounds strange living in the hot tropics and all but it dilutes your drink and if the ice is old it makes the drink taste funny.

8. And probably following on from #7, I only drink tap water not chilled and I have done so all my life.

9. I do the whole beauty routine morning and night without fail - cleanser, toner, day cream, night cream, eye cream etc.....I can't help it..... it has become such a habit.

10. I hate ironing and will put it off indefinately.


Whew, that's it. That really had me thinking!


Once again thank you Jill. I am still amazed and thrilled to be awarded by you!