Friday, March 21, 2014

Whole Wheat English Muffins!

I have been wanting to make these for such a long time! English muffins are I think are definitely a breakfast food or at least they primarily belong in that group of breakfast foods. Some people are into bagels, others crumpets or pikelets (mini pancakes) and others are just old school and like normal sliced bread in the morning. I love english muffins and whenever I go to Superstore or Walmart I always go to that hideaway little corner of the store (in the bread or dairy section) and theres always a multi tray on wheels with 75% off bread and stuff they have to get rid of by the end of the night to make way for the next mornings fresh breads. So really its only like 12 hours old. Thats still very fresh bread and Im down with hunting these awesome yummy things down. If Im lucky I may even get my hands on some cinnamon and raison bread/bagels or those expensive but tasty loaves of rye bread - score!

Anyway, since finishing some pretty intense (but fun) temp work Ive been in the mood to do some baking and I kept thinking about english muffins. I have two fantastic cookbooks I love to go back to frequently and they are The New Zealand Bead Book by Alison & Simon Holst and The Homemade Pantry: 101 foods you can stop buying and start making by Alana Chernila.


These books are awesome and I can't recommend them enough. If you don't own them, please amend that serious situation, they're worth it trust me. In case your not from NZ, Alison Holst is kind of like our Martha Stewart (but without the snobbery and fraud conviction haha) and she really only sticks to food and not homemaking stuff in general. Her recipes are delicious, homey and are really easy to follow and her other recipe books are fantastic as well. Id go as far to say I like her stuff more than the Edmonds Cookbook (a must have book in every NZ kitchen).

Anyway, with any bread related recipe, take more time out of your day and plan well. For me, getting a recipe wrong really upsets me but what is even worse, is dedicating an entire afternoon to making something and the result looking like a dog's breakfast because I didn't properly prepare or read something. My husband knows when this happens its best to ignore me and hide because a pat on the back and a "there there" just makes me angrier. Control freak yes I know.. Also, if your doing a particularly fiddly recipe that is also new to you, allow for lots of time and patience and make sure your ingredients and tools are set up. Also, the process like allowing the bread to rise will allow you to take a break and have a sit down and drink so don't stress! And do allow for some mistakes. Some ovens don't always match with certain recipes and I had to burn a few muffins here just to figure out what was going on and quickly find an alternative solution which eventually turned out fine. And lastly, try really hard not to compare your end result with a store bought version. Home made versions rarely turn out exactly like store bought versions so just get over it. They have special equipment and machines to make everything look uniformly similar and freakishly perfect. Once you get the hang of doing this sort of thing you'll eventually turn your nose up at a lot of store stuff (like me and pre made pancake mix, blasphemy!!)
I knew I got mine right when I ate a couple of my half burnt ones and the texture was the same to what I know. Judge food first with your mouth not your eyes then once you get practiced then you can worry about how pretty it looks.Below is the recipe. Note, I made a few changes as I wanted to make them using whole wheat flour and I suspect my North American oven is a bit different from NZ fisher and paykel ones so I made a few changes re cooking times and temperatures, but overall its pretty much the same. I also followed the 'By Hand Instructions' and doubled the recipe as I don't own a bread hook machine thing, so follow what best suits you.

For 8 English Muffins
25g butter
3/4 cup boiling water
1/2 cup milk
1 Tbsp granulated yeast
2 tsp suagr
2 + 1/2 cups flour (I did 2 cups whole wheat and 1/2 cup of  plain white flour. Never do all whole wheat as it will be far too dense)
1 tsp salt
About 1/4 cup of corn meal

1 large mixing bowl (I used our huge glass fruit bowl)
Spatula (silicone works well)
An apron (unless you want flour on yourself)
Measuring cups
One knife
One small whisk
Dough scraper (very handy, see link so you know what Im talking about)
1-2 cookie/baking trays
Cling film
Cooking spray
Electronic kitchen timer (essential! I bought mine cheaply from Walmart and it works wonderfully)

Bread Machine Instructions
Measure the butter into the  bread machine, pour in the boiling water then leave to stand until the butter has melted before adding the milk, yeast, sugar and flour. Set the machine to to the 'dough' cycle and press 'start'. 

Hand made Instructions
Measure the butter into a large bowl. Pour the boiling water over the butter, then add the the cold milk. Sprinkle in the yeast and sugar and whisk until yeast dissolves. Lease to stand in a warm place for 10 minutes, until the surface bubbles. Add the flour and salt and mix with a knife by continuously cutting into the mixture until it is all combined (good luck using a whisk! haha). Leave to stand in a warm place until that mixture doubles in size (about 30 minutes).

Shaping and Cooking
Preset oven to grill/broil and the temperature to 150 degrees C (300 degrees F). Using the knife stir the mixture back to its original size, then on a well floured work surface (with just enough extra flour to work with it without it sticking). Keeping dough very soft, adding as little flour as possible, cut the dough into 8 equal portions and roll into balls. Roll the balls in cornmeal (to stop them from sticking), then place each one on a cookie tray that is wrapped with cling film and sprayed with a bit of cooking oil. Once all balls are on the tray place in a warm spot again to rise for about 15-20 minutes or until they look a bit puffy. 

In a large oven safe fry pan/skillet, carefully place 4 dough balls top side down (do not oil/grease the pan, trust me), and flatten them a tiny amount with a potato masher so that they are kind of flattish on top. Transfer pan to oven and using a timer (very important must have!), cook for 4 minutes. Then using an oven mit, take the pan out, flip them carefully over and cook for another 4 minutes. You may need to repeat this process as the flipping of sides allows for even cooking. Once they look nicely tan on top, transfer to a plate. And repeat the cooking process with the other remaining balls.

My results
As you can see (on the picture to the right) I made a couple of burnt ones. I also made a couple of undercooked ones. Thats because the recipe told me to do it in a dry fry pan on the oven top with odd cooking times. That process was far too slow quite frankly (Im impatient I know!) So I shoved the pan in the oven and they definitely cooked! ie burnt. So I shortened the cooking times and adjusted a few things (and burnt my hand accidentally) and the ones to the left side of the pan are the result and are in my opinion what they should look like. The ones on the right are unflipped ones.

Anyway, I hope this was helpful to anyone who wants to have a crack at this! My husband happily ate the slightly burnt ones with jam and he still kept asking for more so there you go! Everyone is a winner. 

Eat them with jam and cream cheese or load em up as a sausage & egg or BLT sandwich. Yum!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Vegetarian Lasagne

 Recently watched "Diners, Drive in's and Dives" on the Food Network. I love this show! It pretty much has this bloke called Guy road tripping around the US and visiting (as the title says) diners, drive in's and dives. In other words anything that ISN'T a chain restaurant. People email him places with a fantastic reputation of service, food and flavour and uniqueness and he goes and visits them with a camera crew in tow. Of course don't expect the food he shows to be healthy in any way. Some are, some aren't.

Anyway, on the episode I saw, Guy visited a place called Cafe Nonna in  Nashville, TN an Italian place where the chef and/or owner makes food from his grandmas recipes (hence the Nonna part I suppose).
As what usually happens, I was watching the show when they started talking about vegetarian lasagne, and I quickly grabbed a pen and paper to write stuff down. I later found out the food network has the recipe HERE on their website.
As much as I was enjoying their thing my first thought was that their recipe looked too rich and creamy for me, but I liked the vegetable layers very much and decided to try and make a similar but more simpler bechamel version...

2  butternut squash
½ cup butter
½ cup flour
2x  370ml cans evaporated milk (whole not skim)
3x  garlic cloves, thinly sliced 
1  brown onion, diced
1 Tbsp dried basil
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1  Tbsp dried sage
1 tsp paprika  
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
2 cups crushed tomatoes
1 box of dried lasagna sheets
1 bunch of baby spinach, chopped (stems picked off)
1 cup of grated mozzarella

Special equipment: 1 large lasagna pan

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (150 degrees C).

Cut the butternut squash in half and spoon out the seeds. Place on baking sheet cut-side down. Add some water and bake until a knife slides through the skin and squash easily. Cool and then spoon the flesh from the shell. Mash and set aside for later use.

Raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees F.

In a large sauce pan add 1 tbsp of butter and add the diced onion, mix well and allow to sweat. Frequently stir. After 2 mins add garlic and herbs and paprika. Keep stirring and allow to sweat for another minute before transferring onion mix to a bowl.

Melt the butter in same large saucepan, add the flour and mix with a whisk and allow to brown for 1 minute. Add contents of one can of evaporated milk and whisk the béchamel until all is combined and it begins to thicken. Open the second can and add contents a bit at a time, mixing constantly and allowing to thicken each time until contents are poured in

Spray the sides of the pan with vegetable oil spray. Take 1 cup of the crushed tomatoes and evenly coat bottom of the pan. Line the pan with the sheets of dried pasta overlapping each edge by a centimetre. Spread half of the béchamel equally over the sheets and top with the half of baby spinach.

Add another layer of pasta, then spread the butternut squash over each lasagna.

Then add another layer of pasta on each. Top with the remaining bechamel mixture and remaining chopped baby spinach. Add the last layer of pasta and pour the remaining cup of crushed tomatoes on top.
Finish with the mozzarella.

Bake for one hour.

Take pan out of oven and let it sit for a minute then slice up.

Nb – I precooked my pasta because that’s what I usually do when making my traditional meat based lasagna. As a result the lasagne was quite wet and fell apart easily when I dished it up. On a plus side it was incredibly tasty In this recipe I will presume that it is totally unnecessary to precook the pasta because the cooked squash, béchamel and spinach has so much natural liquid that it should soak through dried pasta sheets and cook it in the process, in that case after the first half hour I would lower the temp a bit lower and cook it and extra 15-20 past the hour. I suppose I should have figured that but now I know.