An education on food

Last week I was lucky enough to spend some time with the lovely Lyndey Milan.  Lyndey is a well-known food and wine person and has a wealth of knowledge on all foodie topics. I not only got to help her prepare for her weekly food segment on a daily morning show but also got to join her when she spoke to kids about food as part of the 'week of tastes' campaign.
The 'week of tastes' is an interesting program dedicated to changing the way children relate to food. As part of the larger Sydney International Food Festival, and amidst growing concerns about obesity and poor nutrition, it tries to raise awareness about the diverse and exciting world of food. I feel quite strongly about food education and think it’s vital for a society to know where its food comes from (not the grocery store!), whose labour goes into growing it and how it makes its way to kitchens.
As part of the program Lyndey did a demonstration on the versatility of carrots, showing them that this vegetable could be used in a variety of ways. Changing taste and texture allows you to create new foods. We started with (grated) carrots with a little freshly squeezed orange juice, and then moved onto a (purée of) cumin carrot dip, (creamed) carrot soup, and we finished with a (baked) carrot cake.
While the kids tried everything (with Lyndey’s encouragement) they couldn’t get enough of the cake! So I thought I would make one myself. This cake was full of carrots, sooo moist and had the perfect cream cheese icing. Try it out for yourself.

carrot cake with cream cheese icing

serves 10-12 large slices or if cut into bars makes 24 pieces
adapted from Lyndey Milan’s recipe

3 eggs
1/2 cup raw sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1 1/3 cup flour ( I mixed plain and wholemeal)
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp vanilla bean/extract
2 cups (3-4 carrots) grated raw carrots
1/2 cup walnuts

cream cheese icing

150g cream cheese
100g icing sugar
lemon zest and 1 tbsp juice (1/2 lemon)
1 tsp vanilla extract/vanilla bean seeds

Preheat oven to 170 degrees C (150 for fan forced)
Grease and line cake tin (I used a round one)

For batter: beat eggs and sugar until fluffy and then add in oil and vanilla. In a separate bowl mix flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and spices. Add dry ingredients to wet and fold in carrots and nuts. Pour batter into prepared tin and bake approx. 40 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool on rack.

To make icing: beat together cream cheese, icing sugar, lemon juice/zest and vanilla until light and fluffy. Ice cake when cooled down. The cake should keep in the fridge for up to 4 days.

A new take

I wanted something sweet to eat the other day and, as I mentioned in an earlier post, cookies are a new joy of mine since moving to Australia. Not wanting to leave my house, I searched the cupboards to see what they would lead me to. I found a LOT of oatmeal (my dad was visiting and since about half of his diet consists of this hearty grain we had stocked up on it). This naturally made me think of its most famous use – the oatmeal raisin cookie.  I wanted the cookies to be chewy and not too sweet. So I tried to find a good recipe but also one that I could easily adapt in order to reinvent the traditional oatmeal raisin cookie.

My search for recipes led me to one by SmittenKitchen – an amazing food blog with lots and lots of tested recipes. The ingredient list sounded good but of course I wanted to change a few quantities and types of products to test out my new take on the classic: I used 1/3 cup sugar, ¾ cup millet flour (instead of plain flour), ½ cup raisins, handful of walnuts and I had to add some chocolate (50g) – always dark. 
The millet flour made the cookies taste quite different. Instead of the classic, crispy exterior normally created by the baked oatmeal, the cookies ended up more soft and chewy, and almost a little crumbly (ie messy). The mess they made was well worth it – they turned out delicious! The strong taste of the millet worked to make the cookie seem grainy without the heaviness usually imparted by wholegrain flour.  The chocolate added that little extra touch!

Da best pizza

I know a fair number of die-hard junk pizza lovers. For them, a real pizza is the kind you find swimming in oil and oozing with cheesiness. For me that isn’t pizza. The best kind of pizza is the homemade kind: not mass-produced, and so fresh that the smell of yeast in the dough remains in the air, even after baking.  That is my kind of pizza.
There are a number of pizza recipes to choose from – my mom had a great recipe, my sister too. The other day I was reading Saveur ( best foodie magazine ever and seriously impossible to afford in Australia – thank you public library) and found an interesting pizza recipe. Of course I still had to change a few things...
Making the dough is easy but be careful not to mix too much sugar, salt and oil with yeast, because that way it won’t bloom. I added honey instead of sugar (this is what my sister does and I find it adds more flavour) and used half plain flour and half wholegrain. In the tradition of the Italians I use a few simple ingredients to make my pizza. It may sound strange to some but one of the tastiest pizzas I make has grapes, rosemary and red chili. Of course, I wouldn’t forget the parmigiano reggiano – a classic Italian cheese.
The fresh crisp pizza holds well with tomato sauce: otherwise known as a reddish concoction of goodness. I basically puree tomatoes and add sea salt, some crushed garlic and parsley.  If you don’t have time to make sauce, simply crush a few roma tomatoes in a bowl, that will do. Seeing as it’s wonderful to have some choice, I made a other few pizzas; one with sautéed mushrooms with gai lan (Chinese broccoli), and one with cherry tomatoes and bocconcini – all homemade, warm and gooey. Buon appetito!

pizza with grapes, rosemary and red chili (or other ideas)
serves 2-4 depending on hunger
adapted from Saveur No.127

1 cup water (tepid/room temperature)
1/2 package dry yeast (7g or ½ tbsp)
1 tsp honey
½ tsp sea salt
2-3 tbsp olive oil
3 cups organic flour (I used half plain and half wholemeal for a heartier crust)
3/4 cup tomato sauce (as mentioned above just use crushed tomatoes and cook if desired)

topping ideas
red or green grapes
fresh rosemary
red chili
steamed Chinese broccoli/broccolini
cherry tomatoes
Saveur’s recipe used squash blossom and burrata - yum.

For the dough: first bloom* the yeast by placing water in a bowl, adding yeast and honey, let sit until foamy (10 mins). Mix flour and salt and stir in water and oil to make dough. Transfer dough to floured surface and knead 8-10 minutes (and no less!) Create two balls and place into bowl – add a little oil to ensure they don’t stick. Cover and let sit in warm place to rise – about 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 225 degrees C (use a pizza stone if you have one as it helps increase the heat/surface for a crustier pizza)
To make pizza: take small ball of dough and using fingertips stretch out to size preferred. Cover dough with tea towel and let rest 15 mins. To prepare pizza, spread sauce over dough and add ingredients. Bake for about 10-12 minutes depending on size and taste. Enjoy.

*If I forgot to mention, bloom refers to a chemical reaction -- when yeast is activated carbon dioxide is created and therefore the dough will rise.

Snack time

I am not one to resist the temptation of snacking. In fact I prefer to eat small amounts of a few different items over the course of the day. But I am not drawn to these light-in-between-meal-treats solely for hedonistic reasons: snacking is actually very healthy ... seriously it is. That's in any case what all the health gurus say; having small snacks and meals is supposed to be better than just eating large meals.
My father has been visiting from abroad. And while he is a man who enjoys his merlot, he’s not known for a huge appetite: he eats like a bird. He doesn’t really think about food nor does he really enjoy it. Which has often made me wonder if he is really my father...
In an attempt to sway him towards eating, and knowing he doesn’t eat much, I thought it best to make a delicious snack that he couldn’t resist. Sometimes there is nothing more inviting than a table full of snacks with different flavours -- sweet, savoury, spicy, tangy --  just sitting there asking to be munched on. My mission was to make spiced nuts ... very easy and too delicious to eat just one.  This recipe was passed onto me by my sister but I changed it a little.
You could serve the spiced nuts alone or with some cheese and grapes - or any other fruits as the sweetness balances perfectly with the heat of the mixed nuts. This is a perfect and easy snack to have for parties. It takes no time at all to make and your guests will be left wanting more. Even my dad ended up eating quite a bit!

Thanks for the pumpkins

This coming weekend is a little holiday in Canada called Thanksgiving. Since moving to Australia I find I feel more Canadian now than I ever did. That must have to do with holding onto nostalgic symbols of ‘home’ and the people you miss. So this week I decided to make pumpkin tarts.

My first experience with thanksgiving foods came in grade 7, when my teacher assigned a few of us to bake pumpkin pie. Initially, as a child of Indian parents, I had no idea what pumpkin pie was; nor did I have any interest in eating a vegetable for dessert (Australians seem to feel the same way about pumpkins in their puddings). But I was quickly won over. We used canned pumpkin puree, and while I frown on such things now, at the time it was incredibly delicious: sweet and creamy, hints of spices like cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. It was vaguely savoury but sweet enough not to be mistaken for anything but dessert.
For my present-day version of pumpkin tarts I use wholewheat sweet pastry and fresh kent pumpkin (you could also use butternut). Pastry is one of those things that seems quite daunting, but don’t be afraid – it’s incredibly easy to make. I use my hands to make the pastry but using a food processor works just as well – and saves with the mess!
A few tips on working with pastry: don’t touch it too much as the heat from your hands melts the butter almost instantly; let it rest in the fridge as much as possible; and if it falls apart, don’t worry as you can press it into the casing and then bake it (it will miraculously stay together).

pumkin pie tarts
makes 4 medium sized tarts
If pastry still scares you then just buy the sweet pastry (available at any grocery store) and use my pumpkin filling recipe.

wholemeal sweet pastry (I use organic as much as it produces a better result)
200g wholemeal flour
125g butter (not too cold)
50g sugar
1 egg

Set oven to 180 degrees C
To make the pastry: make sure all ingredients are room temperature. Cut up butter into smallish squares and leave aside. Sift dry ingredients into large bowl, add butter and crumble with hands until pastry texture resembles sand. Add in slightly beaten egg and mix gently until pastry comes together into a smooth ball. Cover and rest in fridge 30 mins. Once rested, roll out with little flour on surface and place into cases. If it falls apart – try placing pastry back into fridge or press together in case - it will still work!  Dock* the pastry and bake blind*  Take out of oven and let cool in cases.

pumpkin filling
800g kent pumpkin
1 egg
½ cup milk (you could also use alternatives like soy, almond)
2 tbsp yogurt
¼ cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp clove
pinch nutmeg

Set oven to 180 degrees C
Wrap pumpkin in foil (leave skin on as it’s easier to clean after baked) and bake 40 mins or until flesh is soft. Remove and cool. Process pumpkin with all ingredients but add egg last and mix well. Pour mix into tart cases and bake at 170 degrees for 40-50 mins until set. Cool and serve with extra maple syrup and/or whipped cream. Enjoy.

* docking refers to using a fork or sharp object and gently pricking the pastry so that it doesn’t rise.
* blind baking means baking without the filling in order to pre-cook pastry so it doesn’t remain raw. Often beans/beads/rice is used to act as a filling so that pastry doesn’t rise.

The end of winter

Winter is ending in Sydney – I guess officially it has already ended but the mornings are still fresh and chilly. With winter leaving us, we have to say goodbye to all those comforting, heavy winter foods. As one last hooray to winter I wanted to cook a winterish vegetable that is often overlooked: the cauliflower.
I wanted to cook it tandoori-style and with a lot of spice (since cauliflower is a vegetable that can carry heavy flavours). An Indian ‘tandoor’ is basically a very hot clay oven that gives food the most amazing flavour. It’s a little bit like a wood-fire oven, in that the high temperatures cook the food quickly and impart a smoky quality. Like most people, I don’t have a tandoor but luckily I do have a barbeque grill. Try my recipe for spicy ‘tandoori-style’ cauliflower with mint raita.

tandoori style cauliflower with mint raita
(serves 3/4 as a side)

½ head cauliflower
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic crushed
½ tsp tumeric
1 tsp garam masala
2 red chilies
2 tsp paprika
2 inch piece of ginger – grated
sea salt – pinch
freshly ground black pepper
½ lemon

Chop the cauliflower into florets and pour oil over making sure it gets on every piece. Add all spices, garlic, ginger, salt/pepper and mix. Place onto pre-heated grill at medium heat (if you don’t have a bbq use a hot oven). Cook for 10-15 minutes depending on how soft you like your cauliflower. Once cooked add juice from ½ lemon.

To make the mint raita: take 1 cup of yoghurt (I use an organic low fat yoghurt), add ½ bunch of fresh mint leaves (pick and chop finely), small handful of chopped coriander and salt/pepper to taste. The raita helps cool the palate from the spicy heat of the cauliflower.