Mid-20s Malaise

Struggling against the inevitable since 1986!

Recipe: Olive and rosemary focaccia

While I’m on a cooking-and-blogging bender, I thought I’d share this focaccia recipe. It comes courtesy of my friend Ellie, who bought it to a pot-luck dinner party at a friend’s place. I’ve always been quite confident in the kitchen, especially when it comes to baking, but I’ve always been a bit scared of breads, for some reason. I did once make a fairly successful Irish soda bread, but that’s not a real bread: it’s made with bicarb instead of yeast, so it’s basically a savoury cake.

Anyway, my fears were mislaid. This recipe is so easy. It’s a bit time-consuming, because the dough needs to rise three times, but that gives you time to clean up after yourself (or so my mother would have me believe). It’s tasty, versatile, and very impressive when you bring it to a dinner party. (I know, I was one of those impressed individuals.) Furthermore, it’s so satisfying to make something like this. It always seemed like the kind of thing I’d buy, its manufacture beyond my abilities, but I’ve mastered it! I often serve it to accompany my veggie meatballs, or devour it greedily on its own.

Olive and rosemary focaccia

1 1/3 cups grated or mashed potatoes (Don’t add butter or milk or the stuff that you add when serving mashed potato as a side – just boil them, peel them and grate or mash them. I’ve tried it with grated and mashed, and it makes no difference to the resulting texture.)
1 tsp dried yeast
2 tbsp olive oil (+ 2 tbsp for oiling the bowl and pan)
1 1/4 tsp salt
3 1/2 cups plain flour
fresh rosemary, kalamata olives, whatever you want, really: this would be nice  topped with finely sliced sweet potato, for example

Make sure your potatoes are ready to go before making the starter. Just combine the yeast with 1/2 cup of the flour and 1/2 cup of very warm water. Whisk it with a fork, cover it and set it aside in a warm place. (It’s winter and I live in a draughty apartment, so I put my oven on for a few minutes, turn it off and then put the bowl in there.) After 20 minutes, it will have started to bubble and look like this.

Add another 1/2 cup of warm water, 2 tbsp olive oil, the mashed potato, the salt and the remaining 3 cups of flour. Your arms are going to get a workout at this point! Once it’s all combined and looks doughy, transfer it to a floured surface i.e. a bread board dusted and rubbed with flour. Knead the dough until it’s smooth and elastic. (I don’t know what kneading really is. I just punch and drop and massage and throw the dough around on the board. You’ll probably need to reflour the board a couple of times during this process.)

When you can roll the dough into a large ball without it sticking to your fingers, put 1 tbsp olive oil in the bowl then add the dough ball. Roll it around to coat it with oil, then put it somewhere warm for 20 minutes or so to rise again.

Oil a baking tray a further 1 tbsp olive oil. Once the dough has doubled in size, put it in the tray and push it to the corners. Let it rise again (!!!) and, when it’s fluffy, poke your fingers all over it, making little dents. Sprinkle it with sea salt and rosemary, stud it with the olives and you’re good to go!

Whack it in a 220 degree oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown. Let it cool, flip it out, slice it up and guzzle it like the greedy guts you are.

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Filed under: food,

Recipe: Veggie Meatballs

It’s the Monday of a long weekend, and I’ve hardly left the kitchen. It’s been great! I’ve made ontbijtkoek (Dutch spiced breakfast cake), olive and rosemary focaccia (look out for that recipe soon), spinach and potato gnocchi, and this, my veggie meatballs. I used to make spaghetti bolognese a lot, imagining meatballs to be difficult, for some reason. They aren’t, and they’re much tastier! The meat becomes so tender. Oh yeah, the name is a little misleading: they aren’t a vegetarian alternative; rather, they’re crammed with vegetables.

I don’t like or eat a lot of meat. If it wasn’t for chicken and the gamier red meats (venison, kangaroo and duck), I’d gladly go vegetarian. I usually cook vegetarian meals for myself, and if there’s meat involved, it’s counterbalanced by plenty of vegetables.

Not so my boyfriend, whose diet is built around carbohydrates, dairy and meat. (That said, he recently introduced peas to his repertoire.) He’s a uni student, so it’s to be expected, but I do worry about his health. He’s been at home all weekend, working on his final major assessment for this semester, so I’m taking the meatballs to him for dinner tonight. It’s a recipe I’ll keep in mind for when I have nieces, nephews or kids of my own to feed, because the vegetables are well-hidden, so the kids don’t even know they’re eating healthy food! Mwahaha!

Another bonus is that the veggies make the meat go further, making this an economical meal. I get three or four servings out of the quantities below.

Veggie Meatballs

For meatballs:
Half an onion
A small carrot
A small zucchini
A handful of mushrooms
250 grams minced meat of your choice (I usually use veal and pork, today I used beef)
A small handful of grated cheese (parmesan or romano are best)
Two tablespoons breadcrumbs (optional)
An egg (optional)

For sauce (or use your own standard tomato pasta sauce recipe):
Half an onion
Two cloves garlic, crushed
One tin crushed tomatoes
One cup beef or vegetable stock
Two tablespoons tomato paste
Splash of soy sauce (optional)
Handful flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped (optional)
Two large bay leaves (optional)

Grate the vegetables and put them in a bowl. Add the meat. (It’s about half of a standard Australian supermarket packet. I know I should be a food wanker and only use hand-ground meat from an organic butcher or some shit, but it’s a half hour walk to anything like that for me, so fuck that noise.)

Mush them all together with your hands. At this point, you can add the cheese and/or the egg and/or the breadcrumbs. This helps the meatballs to hold their shape, and the cheese is just tasty. You can also add some fresh or dried herbs if you feel like it, but it’s not necessary: these babies really draw up the flavours of the sauce. Salt and pepper the mix, and mush it all together some more.

Take a half-handful of the mix and roll it into a ball. Repeat until you have a tray that looks like this.

Now for the sauce! Chop your onion, and saute it and the garlic together with a little olive oil. Add all the other ingredients, stir together and simmer for about five minutes. Give it a grind (or twelve, if you’re like me) of pepper. Then, drop the meatballs in like you’re poaching them. Spoon some sauce over them, cover, and simmer for about half an hour. Alternately, you can pop them in a casserole dish, pour the sauce over them and whack them in a moderate oven for half an hour.

Filed under: food,

Opskrift: Oat, pecan and raisin cookies

So, I’ve been a bad blogger. I’ve been meaning to post a few recipes I’ve made lately, but I usually forget to take pictures of my baking adventures, and even when I remember…man, it’s so hard to connect my camera to my computer. I’ve got to, like, find the cable, and then find the USB port…it’s a struggle, dudes.

I spent last night and this morning baking up a storm: frikadeller, mandelkage and æbleskiver for my Danish class Christmas dinner tonight. I stupidly volunteered to look after catering for the evening (when I don’t have a car! How am I going to transport it all there? idiot!) but it’s actually been quite fun – especially the æbleskiver, they were some messy, messy fun.

But last week, I made these oat, pecan and raisin cookies for my workmates.

They were super-delicious, and super-easy. I could go on about the chewiness and spiciness of these cookies, but that’s done best by the blogger I stole the recipe from, Rachael Kendrick. I really enjoy everything she writes: she’s a hobby cooker, so she never gets too complicated, just has a lot of fun. Her writing is passionate and sardonic, and she emphasises easy, comforting food, in tune with the seasons. She’s a vegetarian, and I didn’t notice that until I’d read nearly her whole archive. Everything looks just delicious, you’d have to be my father to find the lack of meat an issue.

Anyway, here’s the cookie recipe, and dig through her archives. I can’t wait to try a few more of her recipes!

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Opskrift: Banana bread

Banana bread was, at a certain point, my main reason for living. When I worked my first office job, I started at 7.00 every morning. Ugh. I decided I needed some extra sleep, so I started getting breakfast on my way to work. Most days, to reward myself for getting out of bed before sunrise, I’d get banana bread. Mmh. What a delicious and fattening treat. I did have to reign in my habit when sitting on my arse and eating banana bread every day caused me to gain five kilos in as many weeks, but I still love the stuff. Now, instead of buying the sweet, cake-y type you get in cafes, I make my own.

Delicious.

It’s a great and easy recipe, and quite healthy: mainly flour, eggs, milk and fruit. The only “bad” ingredient is a bit of brown sugar. What I like most about this recipe (apart from its ease) is its versatility. I usually throw in some raspberries (fresh or frozen) and a quarter cup of desiccated coconut, but add whatever you like: blueberries, pear, walnuts, pecans, chocolate chips.

Basic banana bread recipe

Not pictured: eggs.

2 cups self-raising flour (I usually use wholemeal)
1/3 cup brown sugar (the recipe says “firmly packed”, but seriously, the sweetness of the banana and the raspberry I usually add is enough, I usually use a loosely packed 1/4 cup)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
2 eggs, lightly whisked
1 cup milk (I use low-fat milk, and use a bit less than the cup it calls for, otherwise it gets a bit gloopy)
1 cup mashed banana (approximately two bananas)
+ whatever else you care to add!

Sift or whisk together dry ingredients.

Gently fold in wet ingredients (this is where I add the raspberries – last, and folded in very gently, or they discolour the batter).

Pour into lined loaf tin and bake for 45 minutes in a 180 degree oven.*

How fucking easy is that? It freezes well (although I suggest cutting it first and freezing each slice individually) and is great with a cuppa any time of day or night.

*Optional step: I usually use two big bananas for the recipe and take two long, diagonal slices out of them to decorate the top. Press them gently into the top of the batter. Especially tasty if you combine a tiny bit of brown sugar with a tiny bit of water and brush it over the top of the banana, so it goes all crisp and toffee-y. I usually re-brush it halfway through the baking so that that banana doesn’t dry out.

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