Tuesday, March 27, 2007

It's Just Another Muffin Monday or The Purpose-Filled Muffin

Wattleseed and Date Mini Muffins

There’s just something about Monday mornings that makes you want to retreat. The alarm sounds and you turn over wishing it were a Saturday morning instead. You pull the covers over your head in the vain hope that somehow that incessant beeping will magically disappear. After having pressed the snooze button one too many times, it becomes apparent that there is no escape. You reluctantly roll over until you inadvertently fall out of bed, hoping that somehow you might hit you head on the way down and sustain a massive concussion, thus affording yourself the perfect excuse to miss work. Then the stark realisation comes that you are in fact unharmed and of sound mind, so you grudgingly make that long walk to the bathroom, zombie-like, as if you were just made to walk the green mile.

I am fortunate enough to have a work schedule that doesn’t require me to feel this way every Monday morning, although I still know the dreaded feeling of having had a 4-day weekend and knowing that the day is no longer your own. What is it about Mondays that are so hard?

Wattleseed and Date Mini Muffins

I guess for most people the hard thing is that what they do for a living isn’t exactly what they live for. And sadly, all too often it just becomes a means to an end. As for me, I like my job, although I don’t love it and I don’t live for it. When given the order to take some accrued annual leave, I took it without hesitation and never gave work a second thought. The only thoughts I had of work were thoughts of how glad I was not to be there.

I don’t always feel so miserable about Mondays, most times I get up and I look forward to the day ahead, but there are just some weeks when all I can think of when that alarm sounds is how I can get out of work today. Should I feign illness? Will my car break down today? Or should today be the day I must visit my ailing grandmother living a 7-hour drive outside of woop-woop, somewhere remote like Cootamundra, who somehow needs my undivided attention today. I don’t know if it’s a hormonal thing, a girl thing, or perhaps just a me-thing, but there are just some days when all I want to do is pull the covers over my head, stay at home and watch a string of 80’s midday movies with a bowl of popcorn and a tub of ice cream clutched at my bosom.

Mini muffin paper cases

I am probably depressing you all as you read this, and I’m sorry. If you came looking for adventure and intrigue, I’m sorry, you came on the wrong day. I know most people assume the food-bloggers’ life as one of endless banqueting and reverie, but sometimes, you open the fridge door and all you find are leftovers, some rotten bananas and a half eaten cake perhaps. Sometimes the mundane creeps up on all of us and sometimes you just have to take the good with the bad.

Okay, so everyone is prone to a little bout of Mondayitis, but enough of this maudlin, forlorn mush, I have devised a recipe that may be able to help you with the Monday blues or whatever day your working week starts. Besides waking up with an inherent sense of purpose and intention- and maybe a caffeine fix- here is another thing you can add to the list of things to help get you out of bed the mornings- Wattleseed and Date Mufins.

Wattleseed and Date Mini Muffins

Muffins have been a familiar morning staple for as long as I can remember. It’s probably all that sugar in them that aids in the “waking up” dilemma most people have in the mornings. I don’t know exactly how high these muffins rate on the sugar scale, as they don’t taste overly sweet, but the muffins contain dates, which are naturally sweet and means that you don’t have to add that much sugar to the recipe. But just envisage the heady, intoxicating aroma of wattleseed and dates baking in the oven and this should be enough to rouse you from your slumber.

Wattleseed speckled flour
wattleseed speckled flour

Wattleseed usually comes roasted and ground, it smells and tastes like a combination of coffee, hazelnut and chocolate, which as far combinations go cannot be beat. The wattleseed that they sell in shops comes from a blend of several edible acacia plant seeds, native to Australia. It’s quite a unique taste and there is nothing in the world like it. If ever the opportunity to taste wattleseed arises take that chance and you will find out what a treat it is. You can buy wattleseed on the internet and most places ship overseas. If you can’t get hold of any wattleseed, you can replace it in the recipe with some coffee ground, but there is really no substitute.

Wattleseed and Date Mini Muffins
makes 36 mini muffins

Wattleseed and Date Mini Muffins

1¼ cups plain all-purpose flour
1 tbsp wattleseed, ground
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
170g unsalted butter
½ cup packed light muscovado sugar
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 egg
1 cup or 250g Medjool dates

Preheat oven to 170˚C. Line a 24-hole mini muffin tray with paper cases.
Chop the dates into small pieces and mix into a tablespoon or two of flour to stop the dates from sticking together.
In a bowl sift the remaining flour, wattleseed, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. Set aside.
In another bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the egg and maple syrup and mix to combine; the mixture may look a little curdled at this stage but this is fine.
Fold in the flour mixture until just combined.
Stir in dates until incorporated.
Spoon about 2 teaspoons of the batter into the prepared muffin tray, careful not to over fill the cases. Only fill them about ¾ of the way.
Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until the muffin tops are golden brown.
Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
Transfer the muffins to a rack and repeat procedure with the remaining batter.

NOTE: This recipe can be adjusted to make regular sized muffins. A longer baking time is probably required.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Beauty and the Yeast

Vintage Cheddar Loaves

A real-estate agent once told my mother that that best way to sell your house is to make sure you have fresh bread baking in the oven. The woman claimed that the fragrance of fresh bread in the oven was enough to entice even the most scrupulous of house-hunters into purchasing the shabbiest shack on the street. Unfortunately we never got the opportunity to test out this theory. But I must say that passing a bakery early in the morning with its perfume of baking bread floating amidst the crisp morning air was indeed reason enough to cross the threshold and buy something. The bread I guess, just sells itself, and what a beauty it is.

I love bread. I love sourdoughs, I love baguettes, I love brioches, but really any bread will do. Whoever said carbs were bad should be sent to the loony bin; bring on the carb-fest any day. Carbs are great and I will defend carbs to the very end.

But sadly I must confess that for some time now, I have been convinced that yeast has a personal vendetta against me.

There, it’s finally out in the open, no more pretence, my feelings about yeast are laid bare for all to know. Yeast just doesn’t like me, and to be honest I don’t care much for it either. I love bread, but I don’t get along with yeast. Whenever I see a recipe requiring any sort of yeast, I avert my eyes, and avoid it as if it were a black cat on Friday the 13th. Because of this, sadly no breads are ever baked in my oven. No intoxicating aroma of baking carbs waft through my kitchen; bad news if I were to decide to sell a house.

Vintage Cheddar Loaves

I don’t know what it is about yeast, but all my experiences with it have left me soured. When it comes to baking with yeast, there have been one too many disappointments, one too many failures, one too many catastrophes. What emerges from the oven look more like rock formations, rather than something edible and would probably be of more interest to a geologist than a baker.

However recently, I decided to tackle this fear of baking with yeast. If I could overcome my trepidation towards pastry-making I’m sure that this won’t be any different. Now I have come to think of yeast as the stray dog that likes to bully the neighbourhood kids. It can smell your fear, although if you approach it with a certain amount of bravado and confidence it will just leave you to be. So off I go towards that bull terrier called yeast; my gait confident, my head held high, ready to tackle this beast.

Vintage Cheddar Loaf with Tongues

I used Donna Hay’s recipe for Aged Cheddar Breads; the recipe sounded simple enough and I would seriously have to doubt my ability to read if I were to stuff this up. All that was required, to put it bluntly, was to throw everything into a bowl and knead away. Simple, right? And the result?

Well, let’s just say that there’s no rush to open my own bakery. The bread was quite tasty, the sharpness of the parmesan and the mustard seeds and the delicate texture of the cheesy interior is quite delectable. Although I have to say the bread came out a little bit too dense for my liking and after eating half a loaf, I felt that my stomach had expanded to the size of a Nepalese tepee. Be that as it may, the recipe is so simple and foolproof, that if you are a beginner in bread-making, you won’t be able to stuff it up. So if you need a boost in confidence when it comes to baking bread, give this recipe a try.

Vintage Cheddar Breads
DH Magazine (Issue 3)
serves 6

Cheddar Tounge

2 tsp active dry yeast
½ tsp sugar
2/3 cup lukewarm water
2 cups plain all-purpose flour
½ tsp sea salt
2 tbsp olive oil
½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
40g vintage cheddar cheese, cut into 6 logs

Preheat oven to 200ÂșC.
To make the dough, place the yeast, sugar water, flour, salt, olive oil, parmesan and mustard in a large bowl and mix to a soft dough.
Knead on a lightly floured surface for 5 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic,
Divide into six pieces and flatten slightly into discs.
Place a piece of cheddar on each disc and roll to enclose.
Place each roll in a greased and floured 9 x 5 mini loaf tin.
Cover with a clean tea towel and allow to stand in a warm place for 30 minutes or until it has doubled in size.
Bake for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped.Serve warm.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Where am I?

VIntage-Cheddar Montage

Don't worry, I haven't been arrested, or left the the country, or embroiled in some sort of cross-country espionage mission. I have just been inundated with parties, farewells and shopping sprees before my dear friend E leaves the sunny shores of Oz on Wednesday bound for the majestic land of Africa, Malawi, to be precise. It's bittersweet, but she has lots of amazing things to do back home and although Australia just won't be the same without her, Africa won't be either.

But don't fret, I 'll be back soon and here is a little taste of what is to come next on
Milk and Cookies.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

When One Chip Is Too Many...


I hate farewells. A close friend of mine is leaving the country in less than a couple of weeks, pretty much for good. So I have been trying to spend all my spare time with her, thus I haven’t been baking or blogging. I refuse to count down the days left before she leaves, but as that date gets closer and her departure inevitable, it seems that the only sure thing to do is spend whatever precious moments we have left together.

So what we have been doing is gratuitously spending up all over Sydney, exposing her to everything the city has to offer before she leaves our fair shores. With full time work and tyring to fit in shopping sprees, outings and eating lots of foods it's a lot of hard work. It’s quite exhausting in fact, and not to mention the cost. But who can put a price on friendship?

Well to offset this current lifestyle of constant shopping and feasting- it sounds glamorous but really isn’t- especially when your wallet cannot support your habit, I needed to fill my diet with something other than coffee, gelato, chocolate and donuts, and Nutella donuts at that. Aside from eating food that I would consider “shopping fuel”, the worst kind, I haven’t really had the chance to eat something good, not just something delicious, but actually nutritious.

It’s not too long until my friend E leaves and I won't always have this constant excuse to live it up, but meanwhile I needed a healthy respite from my overindulgence. You don’t even want to know how many bowls chips (that's fries for the Americans) I have consumed this past week, and let’s not talk about the pastries we've gobbled up! I just know that the next Nutella donut I am eating will be going straight to my thighs.


So here is a fresh salad that I made as an equaliser for my nutrient deprived body. I am dubbing it the Farewell salad as it represents a few different farewells going on right now. First, it’s a farewell to summer. Officially summer has gone, but it still feels like she is lurking around the place as the heat and humidity haven’t really left us. And secondly, the salad is an early farewell, to all this eating out and bingeing, I really need to rein this in before I become Shamu.

When I get into this grind of eating badly, I start to hate healthy food. So I have to retrain my body to want to crave good foods. So here is a salad I made of roasted vegies. I couldn’t go without some sort of fat on the vegies, as you know, a junkaholic like me has to ease my way back into this healthy thing, so I opted for roasted vegies.

The salad is a combination of asparagus (blanched), roasted yellow squash, beetroot, cherry tomatoes and baby carrots, with a sprinkling of lightly toasted hazelnuts and a splash of homemade Hazelnut dressing. You can use the dressing for pretty much any combination of vegetables, so here is the recipe.


Hazelnut Vinaigrette

1 clove garlic, crushed
a pinch of salt
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp hazelnut oil
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Place ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until emulsified. Pour generously over salad.