Sunday, 26 October 2014

Stuff You Should Know

Stuff You Should Know is a series of podcasts that branches from HowStuffWorks.com. The podcasts are co-hosted by Chuck and Josh, two senior editors at HowStuffWorks. They are a great way to learn about new things or find out more about stuff you may have heard of but not known about in much detail.

There are podcasts about almost every topic you can imagine, from viruses and animal domestication to socialism and trickle-down economics. Their podcast about How Ebola works is so far the most informative piece I have seen or heard about the topic. The podcasts largely stick to facts from a range of sources that are presented in a conversational manner, making them accessible and enjoyable for listeners without getting too heavy.

Each podcast takes a fair while to warm up. There is lengthy banter at the start that is amiable but lasts the first few minutes as well as a couple of minute-long message breaks in the middle before a mailbag wrap-up at the end. But once they get going, the podcasts are really interesting and I have learned so much about ... well, check out the list of available podcasts to find out exactly what.

I subscribe to Stuff You Should Know podcasts via iTunes. There are a couple of new episodes each week. I usually listen to a few each weekend or on the bus when I'm too tired to read.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

National Nut Day

Apparently it's National Nut Day today. Surely that's something to make you smile! Actually, I think it might an overseas event that we are jumping on board with a day early but I'm happy to celebrate it in our own little patch of the world.

Ahh, nuts. Yummmm! So much natural goodness. I buy raw mixed nuts each week and we enjoy them as a healthy protein-filled snack. Make no mistake: they're not cheap but the health benefits are numerous. 30 grams (literally just a handful) provides a huge number of healthy cholesterol-lowering fats, antioxidants, Omega-3 and fibre - and they taste great.

I can take or leave peanuts and don't care much for raw hazelnuts but have a bag of them on hand ready to be roasted and converted into this delicious chocolate and hazelnut cake when the right occasion presents itself. Cashew nuts are an easy entry on my heaven food list and Brazil nuts and almonds have always been favourites of mine, either raw or coated in delicious chocolate. I frequently bake with walnuts; they are a cheaper alternative to pecans and taste very similar and pistachios make fun party snacks. I'm making myself hungry!

I really feel for those who have nut allergies or develop an intolerance of nuts during their lifetime. I can't imagine how scary it much be to react so severely to something you might not even know is in the vicinity.

Join me in going nuts on National Nut Day today. (Chocolate coating optional.) ;-)

Monday, 6 October 2014

Sparkling high tea

The only thing more indulgent than high tea on a Sunday afternoon is high tea with bubbles. This weekend, we were guests of the Amora Hotel for sparkling high tea. Our quest to become ladies continues!

The menu was divided into two categories, rather than three, but featured many of the staples you'd expect from a traditional high tea. Coffee arrived and the bubbly was poured while each item was introduced by the pastry chef. He suggested starting at the top with scones and friands, then working down the tiers through sandwiches and savouries before finishing with sweet treats at the bottom - almost the total opposite to how we've become accustomed to taking high tea. Although it was tempting to start with something sweeter, we reverted to what we knew about being ladies and began with sandwiches after all.

Sparkling high tea
The sandwiches were beautifully fresh and oh so delicate. The lamb and rosemary sausage rolls were a novel addition to the menu. I enjoyed the mini meringue with hazelnut truffle and the marmalade sweetened Devonshire scones served with cream. The standout item for me was the chocolate and cherry tartlet made with delicious chocolate marquis. Yum!

Sparkling high tea is fun way to wile away a Sunday afternoon with friends. Thanks to the Amora Hotel for this lovely prize.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Pear and chocolate brioche

I am fascinated by brioche. Not quite bread, not quite cake, and it is eaten either at breakfast or for dessert. The French have once again got their food right!

My first attempt at baking brioche was under the careful supervision of a live-in French pâtissier. As I no longer have this luxury, I needed to find a recipe I could make by myself. Once again, The New Zealand Bread Book by Simon and Alison Holst had an excellent recipe that could be made either in a breadmaker (then cooked in the oven) or by hand. I used my breadmaker to mix the dough, then shaped the brioche by hand before proofing and baking it in the oven.

The shaping part of the recipe can be fiddly but is getting easier with practice. The pear and chocolate combination is my favourite (and most successful) flavour so far. I have tried making bobble-top brioche a couple of times but prefer the consistency of the three ball method outlined below. It produces a lighter, fluffier finish that you can pull apart while eating. The recipe makes approximately 10 x 90 gram pieces with a bit left over to make a smaller sample one.

Pear and chocolate brioche

Ingredients
  • 3 t Surebake yeast
  • 420 g standard plain flour
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup warm milk
  • 75 g butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 70 g pear pieces, finely diced
Egg glaze
  • 1 egg
  • 1 T water
  • 1/2 t sugar
Method
  1. Place first seven ingredients into bread maker in the order listed. Put chocolate chips in the fruit dispenser. Set on the DOUGH RAISIN cycle (2 hours 20 minutes). Check the dough after about 3 minutes of mixing. It should be soft, but if it looks too wet and sticky add 2 T of extra flour.
  2. When the dough cycle is complete, remove dough from the machine and transfer to a well-oiled bow. Cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight.
  3. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into four or five even pieces, Break off pieces and roll into small balls weighing approximately 30 grams each. This video demonstrates the technique really well.
  4. Place three balls together in a well-oiled muffin pan. Lightly press the diced pear pieces around the edges and in between the dough balls.
    Dough balls with pear pieces - before proofing
  5. Cover loosely with cling film and leave to rise in a warm draught-free place for about 1 hour or until the dough is approximately double in size. (I use the proof dough setting on my oven.)
  6. Preheat oven to 180°C. Make the egg glaze by shaking an egg, water and sugar together in a tightly closed jar or whisking with a fork. Brush over the dough using a pastry brush.
  7. Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown on all surfaces. Makes 10-11 brioche.
Pear and chocolate brioche

Sunday, 28 September 2014

7 grain loaf

One of my baking goals for this year is to reduce the amount of bread I buy and make as much as possible myself. I am having lots of fun (and success) and am proud to report that I haven't bought a single 'fancy' loaf all year - including baked goods like bread rolls, hot cross buns, focaccia and treats like cinnamon swirls. I have also experimented with some everyday bread recipes.

This recipe for 7 grain bread came from a colleague who frequently bakes his own bread. We swapped success stories; I passed on the busy people's bread recipe in exchange for his one below. It is made in a breadmaker and baked on the medium size whole wheat setting (5 hours in total for Panasonic breadmakers). It has a few less conventional ingredients that you can buy from places like Bin Inn or in some supermarket bulk bins. They combine well to add to the overall taste and texture.

7 grain bread

Ingredients
  • 2 1/2 t Surebake yeast
  • 210 g high grade flour
  • 105 g wholemeal flour
  • 45 g 7 grain (or 5 grain) mix
  • 1 t sugar
  • 1 t salt
  • 2 T cornmeal (fine or medium grade)
  • 1 T gluten flour
  • 1 T milk powder
  • 1 T sunflower seeds
  • 1 T pumpkin seeds
  • 1 T Canola or sunflower oil
  • 220 ml tepid water
Method
  1. Add ingredients in the order listed above (or following manufacturer's instructions) to breadmaker pan.
  2. Set to whole wheat > bake > medium loaf size. Cycle will take 5 hours.
  3. Leave in bread pan for 5 mins once cooked then turn out onto wire rack to cool.
7 grain medium sized loaf
Nothing smells or tastes better than freshly baked bread

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Word of the day: pithy

Following the success of last year's word of the day, pecksniffian, I have a new word to add to my everyday vocabulary. The word came to my attention today in the form of feedback emailed to a colleague:
"At 15 pages in length this is a substantial document and doesn't meet requirements in terms of being a pithy and succinct indication of outcomes."
Pithy? Isn't that something found underneath the skin of citrus fruits, like mandarins or oranges?

Apparently not. Several sources offer variations on the following definitions:
  • brief, forceful, and meaningful in expression
  • full of vigor, substance, or meaning
  • terse and vigorously expressive
  • forcible
  • using few words in a clever and effective way
  • having substance and point.
I guess they make sense in the context, albeit the word just sounded very strange in a formal email.

I think pithy might be best used as a substitute word. We practised using it in some different contexts in the office today.

Favourite song:
Will Smith's Gettin' Pithy Wit It


Favourite way to feel sorry for yourself:
Throw a pithy party for ... nobody, because they wouldn't come if you invited them anyway.
http://snarkecards.com - Your pity party on Facebook should have been created under Events so we could have chosen not to attend.
Favourite band:
Pithies

Favourite expression:
I'm really pithed off.

Favourite warning:
Don't pith me off.

Favourite way to describe the weather (derivative):
It's pithing down outside.

Favourite childhood game:
Pithy in the middle

Your challenge: use the word pithy in a sentence in a completely inappropriate way and see if anyone notices.