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October 17, 2011 / amyjmcintosh

Gluten-free bread

Gluten-free wholesome seed bread

What superpower would you most like to have? Laser vision, mind control, healing hands, psychic vibrations? Call me boring, but I would love the ability to squeeze more hours out of my day. Just three more hours would be ideal. Enough time to have an extra hour’s sleep, walk more slowly and write, cook and eat more. Superpowers aside, I recently found an antidote to my busy life – a little something to slow it down a notch or two. It’s called bread making and it works wonders.

I used to marvel at people who make their own bread – in the same way I am awed by people who exercise in the morning. While I am unlikely to ever uncover the secret to early morning exercise, I am pleased to say I have embraced my inner baker. And it was a whole lot easier than I imagined.

If it wasn’t for kissing gluten goodbye, I would have remained oblivious to the joys of bread making. Gluten eaters are spoilt for choice here in Sydney with more than a smattering of good artisan bakeries like Sonoma and Brasserie Bread sprouting up all over town. The gluten-challenged among us, mind you, are left out in the cold when it comes to gluten-free options. It seems most cafes, restaurants and bakeries are positively obsessed with the stuff. And don’t get me started on the gluten-free bread they sell in supermarkets. I’m yet to find a good one.

To set things right, I decided to take matters into my own hands and make my own bread. There’s something  positively grounding about making a loaf of bread from scratch – from mixing the flour and kneading the dough to watching it rise and seeing the finished product greet you from the oven door. I challenge you to feel stressed while kneading dough. It’s simply not possible. And what’s not to love about the smell of freshly baked bread wafting through the house?

If you like the idea of homemade bread, but you’re more likely to travel to Mars and back than whip up a loaf from scratch, I have a toy that might be right up your alley. It’s called a bread making machine. It does all the kneading and rising for you, leaving you more time to do important things like read the paper, paint your nails, watch Mad Men and the like.

Breville recently leant me their whiz bang bread making machine for a test run. It’s called the Custom Loaf Pro and boy is it big! If, like me, you have a poor excuse for a kitchen, you might as well stop reading this now as the machine will dwarf your kitchen and gobble up most of your precious bench space. But if you’re one of those really annoying people (who I aspire to be one day) who has a kitchen bigger than Paris Hilton’s handbag collection, then keep reading.

So, what’s so special about this Breville bread maker? Well, it has a few cool features, like gluten and yeast-free settings and an automatic fruit and nut dispenser that adds ingredients at just the right time in the kneading cycle. There’s also a pause function that allows you to create decorative crusts or a glazed finish. It gives you four loaf sizes to choose from (500g up to 1.25kg) and three crust settings. It also features a collapsible kneading paddle which folds down after mixing to maximise the loaf size and make it easier to remove the bread after baking.

Another feature is the 13-hour delay start timer so you can wake to the scent of freshly baked bread. Good in theory, but the timer doesn’t work with the gluten-free setting, so it’s not much use to people like me. Sob.

So, what’s the verdict? If you’re bread crazed and have a huge kitchen and bake on a regular basis, then you would be wise to consider investing in this fancy machine for $349.95 RRP. For me, I’m sticking with old-fashioned bread making. It’s good for my mental health and my kitchen bench space.

Here’s a recipe for gluten-free wholesome seed bread that I’ve baked on two occasions with the help of the Custom Loaf Pro. The texture is light and the crust is crunchy. And I love the addition of cumin as it imparts an aromatic flavour throughout the bread. The bread goes nicely with pea, lettuce and tarragon soup.

Gluten-free wholesome seed bread

Makes 1.25kg

Wet ingredients:

  • 200ml gluten-free soy milk
  • 200ml water
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp white wine vinegar

Dry ingredients:

  • 2 cups white rice flour
  • 11/4 cups potato flour
  • 1/3 cup soy flour
  • 1/2 cup tapioca flour (arrowroot)
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tbs xanthan gum
  • 1/4 cup LSA mix
  • 2 tbs cumin or caraway seeds
  • 2 tsp gluten-free yeast

Method:

1. Mix liquid ingredients together in a small bowl. Do not use electric mixer as this will aerate the mixture.

2. Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Using a pliable spatula, combine liquid and dry ingredients. Mix to a soft dough ensuring all ingredients are well combined. Fold in additions if applicable.

3. Spoon dough into bread pan, pressing down a spatula after each spoonful, to eliminate air bubbles. Insert bread pan into baking chamber.

4. Press ‘SELECT’ to access GLUTEN FREE setting.

5. Press ‘LOAF SIZE’ to 1000g if required.

6. Press ‘START/PAUSE’ to commence operation.

7. At the end of the setting, press ‘STOP’.

8. Remove bread from the bread machine and bread pan. Cool bread on a rack.

Top tips: To achieve a well-risen and well-baked loaf, check the dough when mixing. If it appears too dry, add 1-2 tsp of water extra. If it appear to runny, check the correct amount of Xantham gum has been added, otherwise add 1-2 tbs rice flour extra.

September 25, 2011 / amyjmcintosh

Broad bean hummus

Broad bean hummus

Who’s your favourite chef? Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is fast becoming one of mine. He wasn’t on my radar until Paul introduced me to his cookbooks last year. His food philosophy is all about respecting the ingredients and sourcing the best possible produce. Hugh’s cookbook ‘River Cottage Every Day’ never fails to inspire me. I’m yet to get my hands on the TV series of the same name – I’ve heard it’s brilliant.

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Today’s recipe comes from ‘River Cottage Every Day’. It’s a delicious broad bean hummus that won’t disappoint. With broad beans in season at the moment here in Australia, now is the perfect time to grab a couple of handfuls when you’re next at the grocer and whip them into a gorgeous, green, garlicky dip. That’s what Paul and I did yesterday. It took about 30 mins from start to finish and even less time for us to polish it off with some homemade tomato salsa, a couple of slices of ham, some marinated goat’s cheese and some homemade gluten-free seed bread. What a great lunch!

The hummus was the most verdant green colour – so green in fact that it could be mistaken for guacamole. Only problem was a severe case of garlic breath that plagued us Paul and I (and anyone who came into close proximity to us) for the rest of the day. We sprinkled the dip with lashings of cracked pepper and smoked paprika.

Without further ado, here’s Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s broad bean hummus.

So tell me, who’s your favourite chef and why?

September 15, 2011 / amyjmcintosh

Beach Burrito Co.

Beach Burrito Company

Truth be told, one of the best perks about being a Sydneysider is the amazing variety of cuisine up for grabs. From Portuguese, Greek, Italian, Vietnamese, Japanese, Lebanese and Thai, this sprawling city has the global palate covered. Not surprising when you consider half our residents were born overseas. My only gripe is most cuisines tend to belong to specific suburbs making them a bit unaccessible if you don’t fancy journeying across the city.

Petersham, for example, is home to some of Sydney’s best Greek and Portuguese food, while Five Dock and Leichhardt in the west could be mistaken for Italy.  Chinatown dishes up some of the tastiest Chinese food this side of China while Cabramatta in Sydney’s south-west is the heartland of Vietnamese food.

Sydney’s east has a smattering of interesting cuisines up its sleeve, including some amazing Israeli food and a bar called The Rum Diaries which transports me to Cuba every time I step foot inside its funky doors. The east is also home to a little piece of Mexico by the name of Beach Burrito Co..

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On our maiden voyage to Beach Burrito Co., Paul and I rocked up to their North Bondi premises, smack bang opposite the beach. They are also located in Coogee and Cronulla. An afternoon spent kicking back at this colourful cafe watching the world go by with a frozen Margarita in one hand and a chipotle chicken burrito in the other is my idea of a good time. Even if you’re not on holidays (which half of Bondi seems to permanently be on), it’s easy to pretend you are thanks to the ever-present holiday vibe that permeates the air.

There’s all manners of Mexicana food on the menu here – fajitas, quesadillas, tacos, taquitos, nachos, but Paul and I couldn’t look past the house speciality – burritos. I opted for a chipotle chicken burrito while Paul’s ordered a green chilli pig. We weren’t disappointed. The servings were seriously super-sized and the fillings were really fresh and generous. Not bad for $12.95 a pop. My tortilla was filled to the brim with chargrilled chicken, Mexican rice, black beans, blended cheese, smokey salsa, guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo (diced tomatoes, coriander, spanish onion and garlic tossed in lemon juice and salt). Paul loved his too – slow roasted pork cooked in green chillies and spices then pulled apart, mexican rice, black beans, blended cheese, green chilli salsa, sour cream and shredded cabbage.

And here’s a bit of useless trivia for you. According to Old El Paso, the name ‘burrito’ translates as ‘little donkey’ and is thought to refer to the folded end of the tortilla, which looks a bit like a donkey’s ear. So, there you go!

I’ve heard the salads are the best thing on the menu (served in crispy tortilla bowls), so I’ll be sure to try that next time. And good news for coeliacs and gluten-sensitive people is they have gluten-free goodies on offer in the shape of corn tacos. Brilliant.

Beach Burrito Co.
252 Campbell Pde
Ph: 9130 7123

August 19, 2011 / amyjmcintosh

Pina Colada mocktail

Pina Colada mocktail

You may have heard Amy’s Cookbook previously sing the praises of coconut water. Its hangover-defying properties make for a happy Amy after a night spent drinking one too many glasses of Pinot Gris. Add to this its ability to transport me to a tropical island every time it passes my lips and you can understand my passion.

Coconut water is not to be confused with coconut milk. It’s the clear fluid in young green coconuts which are harvested before they turn brown and the coconut water turns into coconut milk. At this young age, the coconut water has a subtle coconut flavour and a mild sweetness that makes for a very refreshing drink. It’s so clear, you could easily mistake it for water.

Part of the beauty of coconut water is its packaging. What’s not to love about sticking a straw in a coconut and sipping on it as you strut your stuff? The only downside is it can be awkward to carry bags and do play Words with Friends on your smart phone whilst cradling your coconut (yes, I like to multi-task). Which brings me to the whole point of this blog post.

Have you heard of coconut water poppers? They’re a very handy invention for someone like me who is prone to blood sugar crashes and always needs snacks on hand to bring me back to life. I usually carry muesli bars or nuts in my handbag for such emergencies, but these little cartons of goodness work just as nicely. Each one contains around zero fat and approximately 320 kilojoules (which is a bit less than an orange). A little bird told me they also contain electrolytes which my naturopath tells me are very good for rehydration.

The coconuts hail from a plantation in Indonesian which I hear is sustainable and keeps thousands of people in work.  It also provides a school for the children, so that’s a great thing.

The poppers cost $3 a pop and come in four flavours – straight coconut juice; coconut and pineapple juice; coconut and mango juice; as well as coconut and pink guava juice. Truth be told, the straight coconut variety doesn’t taste as good as the real deal, but that may be caused by the pasteurization process that it goes through to eliminate microorganisms.  The fruit juice flavours are good, although they don’t taste very coconuty to me. But I dare they would make a mean cocktail if one was to mix them with a spot of vodka and some crushed ice.

With my favourite season of Spring just around the corner here in the Southern Hemisphere, I thought it was timely to get into the spirit of the warmer weather by whipping up a coconut mocktail. Without further ado, here’s a recipe for a Pina Colada mocktail! Perfect for all the pregnant ladies out there who feel like treating themselves.

Pina Colada mocktail

Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup of mango Cocobella coconut water
  • 1/3 cup of pineapple juice
  • caster sugar to garnish rim of glass
  • 1/2 cup crushed ice
  • crushed ice, extra, to serve
  • squeeze of lime and finish it off with a nice wedge on the side of the glass (a paper umbrella or a maraschino cherry would be a nice touch too).

Method:

1. See this tutorial for how to rim a glass with sugar.

2. Place pineapple juice, coconut water and ice in the jug of a blender and blend until smooth.

3. Transfer to a serving jug and serve immediately over crushed ice.

So, tell me readers, what’s your favourite cocktail or mocktail?

July 29, 2011 / amyjmcintosh

Breville Professional Tea Maker

Breville Tea Maker

Are you a tea or a coffee person? I’m one of a rare and possibly uncool breed of people who prefer tea over coffee. I have nothing against coffee. In fact, I quite like it. But unlike most people, I don’t rely on it to kickstart my day or fuel my fire. If anything, it gives me heart palpitations and makes me feel edgy. Yes, tea is my preference.

As a proud supporter of tea, I long for the day when my colleagues say, “Anyone for a tea? I’m going on a tea run.”  And when my friends call and ask, “Would you like to meet up for tea this arvo?”  That, my dear readers, will be the day.  But in the meantime, coffee is stealing the show.  This begs the question, why is tea the poor cousin of coffee?  Maybe it’s because it doesn’t give the same smack in the face that a black coffee can give after a late night.  Or maybe tea just needs a good PR campaign to boost its profile – kind of like Obama and Julia Gillard need right now.

The point is I have found just the thing that tea needs to boost its image.  It’s called the Breville Professional Tea Maker.  Kind of like a coffee machine, but for tea.  It took me a while to come round to the point of a tea maker.  I mean, isn’t it simply a case of adding hot water and jiggling?  Is it really worth spending $300 on such a thing?

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It didn’t take long for the tea maker to win my heart.  Not only does this shiny toy make the best cup of tea known to mankind, it also happens to double as a kettle and look pretty hot to trot on my kitchen bench.

Simply add a spoonful of your favourite tea leaves, add water, flick a button and hey presto, it brews the tea to the perfect temperature.  It knows exactly the right temperature and brewing time required to extract the full aroma and flavour from the five popular tea varieties – green, black, white, herbal and oolong.  No more teabags for me!  And goodbye crummy kettle that would be more at home in a university dorm kitchen.

You should see the tea maker in action.  Once the water has reached the ideal temperature for the type of tea you’re brewing, the stainless steel tea basket automatically slides into the water allowing it to circulate freely around the tea leaves for maximum infusion.  Very high tech!

I’m loving our new morning routine – Paul makes the tea when he gets up and uses the temperature control button to keep it warm until I’ve had my shower.  There’s also an option to pre-select a start time – perfect for that freshly brewed pot ready for breakfast.

The only downside we’ve noticed is some of the finer varieties of tea leaves like Yorkshire tend to fall through the filter as the leaves are finer than the holes.  Other than that, I can’t think of any negatives to this innovation.  If you love tea and you need a new kettle, I highly recommend that you buy one!

Oh, and be sure to serve your tea with gluten-free blueberry muffins or some white chocolate cookies.

So, tell me, are you a tea or a coffee person?

July 22, 2011 / amyjmcintosh

Gluten-free blueberry muffins

Gluten-free blueberry muffins

They say leopards don’t change their spots, but can people change their palates? Can a sweet tooth embrace their inner salty tooth, and vice versa? As a long-suffering owner of a sweet tooth (or two), the prospect of becoming a salty tooth seems like a great idea. Unless, of course, I replace my love of chocolate with a hankering for hot chips, it would be an entirely useless exercise.

So, chocolate and chips aside, do you think it’s possible to change your culinary persuasion? I decided to put this experiment to the test over a year ago after receiving an earful from my doctor about my high sugar intake. I felt like a naughty schoolgirl as she wagged her finger at me and warned me about the associated risks of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes, so much so that I vowed to never eat sugar again.

I wouldn’t say I’m a reformed sugar addict, but I’ve made some massive inroads in my pursuit of a healthier diet. I’ve even kissed goodbye by morning chai lattes and 4pm Freddo Frog break. And, shock horror, I still have Easter eggs leftover from April. That is unheard of in my household! These days, my main vices are dairy-free 70% cocoa dark chocolate, red wine, salami and the occasional pack of chippies.

So, have I given up my sweet tooth altogether? In short, the answer is no. I’ve suppressed it more than anything and toned it down a notch or two – kind of like a smoker who has kicked their nicotine habit but would still kill for a ciggy given half the chance.

I got back in touch with my sweet tooth on the weekend by whipping up a batch of gluten-free blueberry muffins. I hung up my baking apron around the same time that I gave up sugar, but in the interests of writing interesting blog posts, I decided to get back in the swing of it, and boy was it fun.

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Gluten-free blueberry muffins

Makes 12 muffins

2 cups rice flour

2/3 cup caster sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

¾ teaspoon xanthan gum

pinch salt

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 ½ cups frozen (I don’t defrost them) or fresh blueberries

½ cup gluten-free soy milk

½ cup canola or safflower oil

2 large free-range eggs

½ teaspoon vanilla essence

Crumble topping:

1½ cup pecan nuts, finely chopped

1/3 cup brown sugar (loosely packed)

Method: 

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Spray muffin pan with cooking spray.

Mix sifted flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, salt and cinnamon in large mixing bowl. Add blueberries; stir to coat evenly.

Combine milk and oil in small bowl. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add liquids to blueberry mixture and stir until just combined.

To make the crumble topping, mix the pecans with brown sugar.

Spoon mixture into muffin pans. Sprinkle each muffin with crumble topping. Bake in the centre of the oven for 25 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove muffins from pan and serve immediately or cool on a rack.

The muffins can be frozen and taken to work for morning-tea treats!

The moral of the story is that you can take the girl out of the sweet tooth, but you can’t take the sweet tooth out of the girl.

So, tell me readers, are you a sweet tooth or a savoury tooth? 

July 5, 2011 / amyjmcintosh

Chicken soup

Chicken soup

There’s two types of eaters in this world – those who live to eat and those who eat to live. No prizes for guessing which camp I fall into. What type of eater are you? Is your relationship with food based on passion or necessity?

Sometimes I wish I was one of those people who regard food as fuel and regularly forget to eat. It would save me from having to constantly think about food. It would probably save my waistline too. But on the downside, it would mean the death of this blog. A food blog written by a food hater? Forget it.

A surefire sign of a food lover is a healthy preoccupation with comfort food. In other words, eating when you’re not hungry. Comfort eaters are masters of the art of eating for the sake of it. They’ll find any excuse to put food in their mouths. The most frequently cited reasons being boredom, sickness, procrastination, heartache, depression, joy and tiredness.

Ice-cream, biscuits and chocolate are popular forms of sweet comfort food. Hot chips, pizza, burgers, bangers and mash, anything involving carbs are highly sought after in the savoury department. A common misconception with comfort food is that it has to be unhealthy. This is not the case. Take chicken soup, for example. It’s one of the best comfort foods around and happens to be very good for you. Some even go as far as saying it cures sickness.

In the interests of curbing my reliance on unhealthy comfort foods, I decided to soothe my soul with a big pot of homemade chicken soup. I made the whole thing from scratch, including the broth. This isn’t a mid-week meal as you need to leave the soup in the fridge overnight so you can skim the solidified fat off the surface the next day. It’s really worth the effort. I’ve never tasted soup this delicious.

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Classic chicken soup adapted from Taste

Ingredients (serves 6)

  • 1 x 1.4kg (size 14) chicken (make sure it’s free-range)
  • 2 large brown onions, finely chopped
  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh continental parsley leaves
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 60mls (1/4 cup) fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbs soy sauce
  • 5 celery sticks, cut into lcm pieces
  • 5 medium carrots, cut into lcm pieces
  • 2 medium tomatoes, halved
  • Salt & ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1.5L (6 cups) water

Method

  1. Rinse the inside of the chicken. Remove the tail and neck, and as much skin as possible from the chicken.
  2. Combine the onions, parsley, garlic, lemon juice and soy sauce in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat for 5-8 minutes or until the onions are soft. Add the chicken, celery, carrots and tomatoes and season with pepper. Add the water and bring to the boil.
  3. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 1 hour or until the chicken is tender and comes away from the bones easily.
  4. Remove from heat, cool for 10 minutes and place the soup in the fridge to chill overnight. (This allows the fat to rise to the surface and set.)
  5. Next day, remove the soup from the fridge and use a large metal spoon to remove the layer of solidified fat from the surface.
  6. Remove the chicken from the soup and place in a large bowl. Use your fingers to remove the meat from the bones and shred into pieces. Discard the bones. Return the chicken meat to the soup.
  7. Bring the soup to the boil over medium heat and simmer until the chicken and vegetables are heated through. Remove the soup from the heat and skim a piece of paper towel over the surface to absorb any excess fat.
  8. Season with salt and ladle the soup into deep soup bowls. Sprinkle with pepper and serve.

So, tell me, what’s your favourite comfort food?