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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Homemade baked beans

"Baked" beans

I admit to liking some really crap food. For example, even though I know it's dreadful, I have a soft spot for canned spaghetti with "sausages". Canned baked beans, however.... Ergh. I've never liked canned baked beans and I'm not sure why. I love beans. I love things that have been stewed in tomato based sauces. But canned baked beans? Yuck.

"Baked" beans

So when I picked up a couple of ham hocks, I wanted to try making my own baked beans. My first attempt was a dismal failure - not because it didn't taste good, but because the beans I used disintegrated in the cooking process and it became a bean soup. It was a tasty bean soup but it wasn't baked beans.

On my second attempt, I used dried cannellini beans and this turned out much better. So much better that I ate it three meals in a row....!

"Baked" beans

Homemade baked beans

400g dried cannellini beans, covered with plenty of water and soaked overnight
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 carrots, peeled and finely diced
3 celery sticks, finely diced
1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced
2 cloves crushed garlic
800g canned whole tomatoes
2 tablespoons treacle (I wanted to use molasses, but I only had treacle in the cupboard)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Bay leaf
1 ham hock, skin and fat removed
Salt + pepper

Drain the cannellini beans and give them a quick rinse. Set aside.

In a large pot, heat the oil and cook the celery, carrots and onion on a medium-low for about 5 minutes or until soft. Add the crushed garlic and cook for a further minute.

Add the tomatoes, treacle, sugar, bay leaf, ham hock and beans to the pot. Add enough water to just cover and let it come to the boil. Turn it down to a simmer and let it cook gently over a low heat until the beans are soft (I did this in my magic/thermal pot - it will probably take an hour or two on the stove.)

When the beans are soft, remove the ham hock, shredding any meat and adding it back to the beans. Season well with salt and pepper and serve with crusty bread.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ladies who lunch: Gills Diner

It’s been a long time between Ladies Lunches. Last month I caught up with my friend Emily for a spontaneous lunch. We met at Journal Canteen, but unfortunately it was chock-a-block when we arrived, so we wandered up to Gills Diner instead.

And what a good idea that was! We had a wonderful lunch.

Gills Diner

(Excuse the exceptionally shit phone camera pics. Just try and think of the strange blurry, smudgy parts as "artistic".)

I had one of the specials – a very wintery dish of braised ox tail and mashed potato. I must've zoned out when the waiter was describing the dish to me because I thought he said ox tail and grilled cheek. But I'm pretty sure that grilled reddish thing was tongue. Either way, it was very good - all tender meat and dark, savoury sauce.

Gills Diner

Em and I shared dessert: lemon delicious pudding with vanilla ice cream. We were warned that it would take 15 minutes to make - and oh boy was it worth the wait. The pudding was divine! The top was a delicate lemon sponge, and underneath the sponge was a tangy lemon sauce. The ice cream was also delicious and flecked with vanilla seeds. We savoured dessert right to the last spoonful and I had a touch of regret that we hadn't ordered one each!

See a previous visit to Gills Diner here.

Gills Diner
Gills Alley (rear of 360 Little Collins St)
Phone: (03) 9670 7214

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Soup Sunday: Celeriac, cauliflower and leek

Celeriac, cauliflower and leek soup

The soup this week was really thanks to the efforts of my Bro. I did the directing, while he did all the grunt work. Naturally I took the glory! It's a pretty good way to cook - I highly recommend it.

I picked up a massive celeriac at the market, and the only way I know how to use it is to make soup. I hear that you can eat it raw though.... hasn't anyone tried this? I'm not so sure about it. That, and I do really like making it into soup.

Celeriac, cauliflower and leek soup

No recipe for this effort - but to make it you will need:

One brother to do all the hard work
One leek
One celeriac
Half a cauliflower
2 cloves of garlic
Water / vegetable stock
Salt and pepper

Get your brother to finely slice the leek, cut the cauliflower into florets and crush the garlic.

Tell your Bro to heat a dash of oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and add the leek, cauliflower and garlic to the pot. Let it cook for a few minutes until soft.

Meanwhile, your brother should peel and chop the celeriac into chunks. Add to the pot.

Add enough stock/water to just cover the vegetables and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to medium and gently simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.

Give your brother a stick blender, and let them blend the soup until smooth.

Add a very generous dash of milk - enough to thin it slightly and add some richness. Season well with white pepper and salt.

Pat yourself on the back for a job well done - and thank your Bro.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Soup Sunday: French onion soup

Welcome to the Super Duper Long Weekend Edition of Soup Sunday! Since we had a long weekend, I decided to do a soup that was a bit more special than my “dump stuff in a pot” usuals.

I started by making beef stock the day before, roasting bones and vegetables before letting them simmer together for hours. In hindsight, I should’ve doubled the amount of bones (I had just over a kilo) for a more meaty flavour.

French onion soup

Sunday was spent knee deep in onions. I ended up peeling, slicing and cooking 3 kilos of onions. Yes, 3 fricken kilos. (Actually, Bro helped me peel some of the onions. Peeling onions is a pain in the arse!) I had to drag out my biggest pot to start softening all the onions – a pot that mum and dad brought us when they were last over. I don’t know what other parents buy for their children, but my parents give us pots (on a previous visit we received the magic pot).

I followed
a recipe on the Gourmet Traveller website (although I made 1 & 1/2 times the quantity). After the onions had spent the first twenty minutes in the pot with the lid on, the heat was turned down low and I let them cook for an hour and a half, stirring occasionally.

French onion soup

After the long cooking, the onions had collapsed into a much smaller pile, and were soft, sweet and golden. I added the stock and herbs and let it simmer for another 30-40 minutes and it was finally ready! It had only taken all afternoon.

My patience was rewarded though, it was a pretty good soup. My only complaint was that I had let it simmer down too much and I thought the soup was too thick. And I'm not sure I would make it again, it really does take a long time!

Apple Sponge Pudding

We had invited Benisa over to partake in Soup Sunday, and naturally I had to serve them dessert. I opted for apple sponge pudding.

Apple Sponge Pudding

Instead of doing one big pudding, I baked it in individual ramekins. When I portioned out the pudding batter amongst the ramekins, I realised that I didn't have enough so ended up doubling the amount of batter. Looking back, I would skip the mixed spice in the batter, and just use cinnamon. And if I'm being picky, the sponge turned out a bit firm - I may have overbaked it.

Nevertheless, if you ignore my nitpicking, it was another successful edition of Soup Sunday. The only question now is, what's coming up this week...?


French onion soup from Gourmet Traveller

Apple sponge pudding from

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Chocolate and pear muffins with chocolate syrup

Hooray for long weekends! I spent the bulk of it cooking - it was nice to get back in the kitchen and be enthused and excited again.

On Saturday we went to visit my dear friend Emily, her partner Mark and their lovely wee girl Audrey. Em and Mark bought their first house recently and moved in about 6 weeks ago. I was keen to see their new place, but as Em is rather pregnant at the moment (she's due next week!) I offered to cook them dinner in exchange for a nosey beak and a play with Audrey. Win win situation!

Chocolate and pear muffins with chocolate syrup

What to cook, what to cook? I've never been of the mindset that, when cooking for friends, you should only use recipes that you have made before. If you can't experiment on your friends, what's the point? (That, and I have enough faith in my cooking skills now that I reckon I could salvage a dish even if the recipe was crap.) I spent a fair bit of time browsing my cookbooks and the internet and settled on a chicken and date stew from (I did take a photo, but it didn't look terribly appetising so I won't bother posting it.)

The dish turned out great - it had lots of flavour from all the spices and the dates added a final bit of sweetness. I've said before that I'm not sure about fruit in savoury dishes, but perhaps I'm warming to it. I served it with cous cous that had sultanas and pepitas stirred in. It was nice to have the bits of crunchy pepita and almonds as a textural difference.

Chocolate and pear muffins with chocolate syrup

And dessert, of course I made dessert! Dessert was
chocolate and pear muffins with chocolate syrup (recipe also from They look like it took a fair amount of effort to make, but they were actually quite simple to put together. Though I did almost forget to add the eggs... I might have a different opinion if I hadn't reread the recipe just in time! The muffins were quite dense and rich, with the pear in the middle helping to break up the chocolate. They look gorgeous and are worth making, I reckon.

Chicken and date tagine/stew
Chocolate and pear muffins with chocolate syrup

Friday, June 5, 2009

Soup Sunday: Curried pumpkin and kumara soup + onion focaccia

Pumpkin & kumara soup + onion focaccia

Gosh, I'm running a bit late with the Soup Sunday post - it's almost Sunday again! (And I have a super duper long weekend edition planned. Oh my!). The soup for this Sunday helped me use up bits and pieces - one of the reasons I love making soup! I had a few kumara (sweet potatoes), half a pumpkin, a couple of carrots and a leek. Not much by themselves, but all together they were a pot of orange goodness.

Into the pot went the sliced leek, a couple of crushed cloves of garlic, three diced kumara, the diced pumpkin half and two diced carrots. After they softened in a glug of oil for several minutes, I added enough water to just cover the vegetables. I let it simmer until soft, blended it up with the stick blender, and then seasoned with salt and pepper plus a smidge of curry powder (I love curry and pumpkin together).

The end result was pretty much pumpkin soup, but the kumara did add a touch more sweetness than usual.

Pumpkin & kumara soup + onion focaccia

I also made an onion focaccia that evening using a recipe from my baking bible, Australian Women’s Weekly “Bake”. The focaccia was great! I let my mixer do the kneading so all I really had to do was throw the ingredients in the bowl and slice the onions. I'll definitely use this recipe again as a base and try some different variations.

Onion focaccia

From Australia Women's Weekly "Bake"

2 & 1/2 cups (375g) plain flour
2 teaspoons (7g) dried yeast
1/2 cup (20g) finely grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons coarsley chopped fresh sage
3 teaspoons sea salt flake
1 cup (250ml) warm water
1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil
1 small white onion (80g) sliced thinly

Sift the flour into a bowl and stir in the yeast, cheese, sage and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Gradually stir in the water and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Knead for about 10 minutes until the oil is smooth and elastic.

Place the dough on an oiled tray and press into a 24cm circle. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let it stand in a warm place until it doubles in size.

Preheat the oven to 220°C.

Combine the onion, remaining salt and remaining oil in a bowl. After the dough has finished rising, remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle the top with the onion mixture.

Bake for approximately 25 minutes. Let it cool on a wire rack.

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