Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Soups on Sundays (or how to avoid porridge)

As an independent adult living out of my parents' home, I get to choose whatever I want to eat for dinner. Weeknight dinners are usually quick, healthy and something which will make good leftovers for lunch at work the next day. Saturday night dinners are usually out. Sunday night dinners are either one of two things – a complex, new recipe that’s taken all day to cook and makes the most out of the fresh and exciting ingredients I get at the farmer’s market on Saturdays, or greasy take away recovery food (this past Sunday was definitely the latter!)

But that’s now, rewind about 15 years and Sunday night dinner was a very different choice - porridge, or tuna pattie melts. Perhaps I should explain...

As a kid Sunday afternoon was more often than not spent at the house of cousins, friends, family friends etc. The general scene was this: at least 10 screaming kids running wild in someone’s backyard, and parents sitting around inside eating afternoon tea. Sure, we’d eat a bit, grab a biscuit here, a scone there but food was never the main attraction for the under-16s at these afternoon gatherings, we were too busy running amok and teasing parents' friends' weird kids. (Hey - don't judge me, some of them were seriously wacky, and kids can be cruel!) The parents on the other hand, ate, lots! Afternoon gluttony led them to believe that Sunday night dinner wasn’t required, and we were duly offered porridge, or tuna pattie melts.

I had forgotten all about this Sunday night tradition until Mother’s Day. Having spent the afternoon at Nana’s for an afternoon feast, my little sister begged me to stick around at my parent’s place for dinner and order some take away or cook something delicious to avoid being told “you can’t possibly be hungry after that afternoon tea! Let’s just have porridge or something for dinner!” I realised with some shock that I wasn’t hungry either, I didn’t really feel like any dinner – I had crossed over.

Adult (afternoon tea-wise at least) or not, I would never return to porridge for Sunday night dinner. Surely there’s something else quick, easy, savoury, comforting and light that can be whipped up without too much effort? Of course there is, there’s always soup!

This is a slightly special soup, in fact it’s fancy name is “Roasted Carrot, caramelised garlic and red lentil soup” which I think sounds like a very special Sunday night dinner. But it's pretty simple really - the carrots and garlic are roasted in a hot oven until sweet, brown and caramelised and then whizzed up with some stock, a few aromatics and some simmered lentils. It’s also probably very easy to modify according to what veggies you have in the fridge – a wedge of pumpkin, some sweet potatoes, even cauliflower would probably work well here (although give it a shorter blast in the oven.)

So without further ado, I give you what is possibley the perfect Sunday night dinner (plus delicious leftovers! What a bonus!)

Roast Carrot, Caramelised Garlic and Red Lentil Soup

1kilo carrots (about 5-6 carrots)
4 cloves garlic (skin still on)
2Tbs olive oil
2Tbs butter
1 brown onion chopped
2 stalks celery chopped
1 red chilli finely sliced (optional but highly recommended)
1tsp ground cumin
1tsp ground coriander
1/4tsp cracked black pepper
1tsp salt
4cups veggie stock
½ cup red lentils
3Tbs quark/yogurt/sour cream (optional but again delicious)
Salt and black pepper to serve

Preheat the oven to 200c

Roughly chop the carrots and pop them in a baking dish with the garlic and toss through the olive oil. Pop the whole lot in the oven – they should take about 20-25 minutes to cook through.

While the carrots are roasting, pop a big pot on a medium heat, melt the butter in and slowly fry off the onion, celery and chilli till soft and translucent – obviously the chilli won’t go translucent, but you know!

Tip in the spices, salt and pepper and fry off for about 30 seconds.

Rinse the lentils under cold water and then throw them in the pot and fry off for a bit (like rice in a risotto)

Pour the stock into the pot and turn up the heat to bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer

While the lentils are simmering, pull the carrots out of the oven.

Remove the garlic cloves from the dish and squeeze the mushy, brown, sweet delicious garlic out of their skins and into the pot, then throw in the carrots too, and any juices/oily bits left on the bottom of the baking dish, they’re the most delicious!

Continue to simmer until the lentils are soft (15-20mins)

At this point I pull out my handy bamix and give the whole lot a good whizz till it’s smooth and creamy. If you don’t have a bamix, you can whizz in a blender, but make sure you don’t overfill it! Hot liquid expands when whizzed – dangerous stuff!

I love to stir in a couple of tablespoons of delicious organic quark to round out the flavours. As I mentioned in the ingredients, you could use yogurt or sour cream here too.

This makes a very thick soup. One that will keep thickening in the fridge overnight, but it’s also very flavoursome, so don’t be afraid to thin it out to your desired consistency with a bit of water. I personally like my soup almost like a thick puree. Yum!

Enjoy with some buttered toast on the couch, watching masterchef – and say goodbye to Sunday night porridge forever.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Breakfast Dessert

Me: So, can I please have the sautéed mushrooms with dukkah and goats cheese and a strong soy cappuccino.

Waitress: Yep

Sister 1: I’ll have the baked beans and a skinny latte please

Waitress: sure, no problem

Sister 2: And I’d also like the baked beans, but with no feta, plus a poached egg and a soy latte thanks

Waitress: Ok

Me: and then for breakfast-dessert we’ll have the gingerbread with poached plums and mascarpone

Waitress(eyebrows raised in judgemental disbelief): huh? Breakfast what now?

...and so it goes, most Saturday mornings.

I’ve never understood why breakfast is the only meal of the day when it’s unacceptable to have dessert. Want a brownie with your post-lunch espresso? Go for it! Scoop of ice-cream on the couch after dinner? By all means! Gingerbread and poached plums after poached eggs? You must be mad!

You see, I never want a full sweet breakfast – the thought of going out and ordering bircher muesli makes me shudder – I can soak my own oats in apple juice thank you very much! But I do like something sweet in the mornings, thus breakfast-dessert was born.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not like we order a slice of Bailey’s cheesecake each at 9am (urgh, who would ever eat Bailey’s cheesecake, but I digress!) we tend to share one sweet dish off the menu after our eggs. That sweet thing often tends to be banana cake, or bread – if you want to delude yourself that because something is shaped like a loaf it’s not full of butter and sugar.

Banana bread is fairly ubiquitous on breakfast menus in Melbourne – some incarnations with spiced honey labne, pistachios and poached rhubarb (for example) are more adventurous than others, but generally, all are delicious, and make a perfect sweet ending to breakfast.

Banana bread is also incredibly easy, and should by no means be something that is only eaten in cafes. Everyone should have a foolproof, quick and easy banana bread recipe at home for when they don’t quite get through that bunch of bananas before they get overly brown. In fact, to be honest, I usually buy more bananas than we could possibly eat in a week just so I can make banana bread (or choc-banana ice-cream.)

This recipe is from Stephanie Alexander’s bible The Cook’s Companion which I love, love, love! (Did I mention I love it?!) I have tinkered with the recipe a bit – largely health-ing it up a tad, using much less sugar, substituting some of the flour for wholemeal and reducing the butter a bit to make it a more versatile, every day cake. In my humble opinion, this is one of the best versions of banana bread out there - it’s not only the perfect breakfast-dessert, it’s also a delicious afternoon snack with a cup of tea, a breakfast in itself toasted and topped with a blob of greek yogurt or even a bit of a sneaky light lunch smeared with some ricotta and sprinkled with extra cinnamon – the possibilities are endless!

So head out, buy some bananas, twiddle your fingers while they go nice and brown and mushy, then make yourself some breakfast-dessert at home, and avoid the judgemental raised eyebrows of the waitress at a cafe near you.

Breakfast dessert banana bread

100g softened unsalted butter

1 cup of raw sugar (normal sugar would work fine too)

2 eggs

3 medium overripe bananas mashed

1/2tsp pure vanilla

1 cup plain flour

1 cup wholemeal flour (you could just as easily use 2 cups plain - but not 2 cups wholemeal)

1 tsp bicarb soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground ginger(you could also use allspice or a tiny pinch of nutmeg)

1/2 cup of plain yogurt or buttermilk (you can make buttermilk easily by putting 1Tbs lemon juice in 1 cup of milk and leaving for 10mins)

Preheat oven to 180c and butter and flour your chosen baking tin. I used a 25cm loaf tin.

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy and pale - if you're using raw sugar it won't get as pale as normal sugar.

Beat in banana, vanilla and eggs, one at a time.

Sift dry ingredients and add to mixture alternately with yogurt/buttermilk.

Stir until combined.

Pour into your tin you are using and bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until cake tests clean when skewered. My oven leaves a lot to be desired and it usually takes my cake at least an hour.

The top should be nice and brown and a bit cracked - you can always tent with foil if the top is getting too brown.

Cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.

Cool completely before storing in an airtight container - alternatively, you can slice it up and freeze it for easy long term access!

P.S. I realise I owe you a photo, but it's been a month since I last posted and banana bread waits for no one. I promise next post will have at least 2 photos to make up for the omission