Daring Bakers: pizza with p- p- p-

So here we are. It’s pizza time in the Daring Bakers’ Challenge. I love pizza. Adore the stuff. When I make it myself. None of my friends make it. Too many think of it as a fundamentally unhealthy food to be banished from the kitchen. Codswallop.

Peter Reinhart’s recipe yields a lovely crust and is in many ways a good lesson in how easy baking can be, with such delicious results. As I make pizza regularly, to do something novel required a little creativity… so I decided a 1980s flashback was in order.

The challenge was initiated by Rosa of Rosa’s Yummy Yums. For a metric version of the recipe, go and visit Y at Lemonpi. The baker’s percentages are:

  • Bread flour – 100%
  • Salt – 2.2%
  • Oil – 9.9%
  • Instant dry yeast – 0.54%
  • Water – 69.1%

I baked pizza with p-. I mean p- p-. No really, it was p- p- p-


There, I said it. I haven’t made an Hawaiian Pizza since about 1989. It’s such a popular thing in Australia. But around the world there are ‘civilised’ people, especially Europeans in my experience, who turn up their nose, snort or sneeeeeer at the thought. Pineapple on a pizza! It is true that, in my humble opinion, a shop-made Hawaiian is often a foul, foul thing. But made at home it can rise to excellence. Especially with a little pancetta and some mushroom:)

It was really yummy. And I have half a can of pineapple left… hmmm.

Of lamb shanks, polenta, pears and luscious vanilla…

Not too long ago, someone asked me ‘so do you cook?’. At the time, I was standing over an oven full of macarons and a small bowl of chocolate ganache. I was a little confused by the question. For ‘cook’, I was meant to understand ‘do more than slave over sweet things’. Honestly, man cannot nourish himself on chocolate and almond meal alone! Duh! I submit, herewith, some slight evidence of other cookery in my kitchen.

On the occasion of my mum’s 60th birthday this week, a dinner was prepared in the House of Duncan. My sister did two salads, one teeming with big fat prawns, and shot glasses filled with oysters in a mango-basil purĂ©e.

Meanwhile, I roasted some hefty lambshanks (450gm each, A$2 each… I love the Queen Victoria Market!), individually wrapped in foil. They had been rubbed with a paste of garlic, rosemary and pancetta.

The shanks were served on a bed of soft coarse polenta made with my chicken stock. And alongside this was delicious roasted asparagus dressed with olive oil, a little lemon juice, salt flakes and pepper.

Dessert was individual tarts. The pastry was flavoured lightly with cardamom. Inside each tart was a layer of thin beurre bosc pear slices on a frangipane filling. The pear was sprinkled lightly with rosewater before baking.

The tart was covered with a layer of mascarpone cream with a hefty dose of some lovely vanilla that arrived in the mail last week.

The mascarpone cream consisted of 60% mascarpone and 40% thickened cream, with enough pure icing sugar to remove the flatness of the cream, whipped until it could hold its shape well but wasn’t drily stiff. Oh, and then there was all those lovely little vanilla seeds! The cream was then applied to the cooled baked tarts with a palette knife. The top surface was smoothed and then I made a pattern in it with the tip of the knife to simulate the slices of pear beneath.

The tarts were served with a glass of the wonderful La Spinetta ‘Bricco Quaglia’ Moscato d’Asti (2006). (Ignore the Rosso Antico on the glass — it’s just a cute glass from a bunch I found on the side of the road recently!)

Cardamom, almond, rose and vanilla are great matches. I had thought the pear would be too, but I wasn’t so happy with the outcome. Although a delicate delight, I would have preferred an additional dimension, perhaps the slight acidity of apple instead. Nonetheless, everyone did like the tarts.

Oh look, I just devoted five paragraphs to the sweet stuff. But yes, savoury does get a look-in in my cooking life! 😉

A local writer ignores the local blogging scene?

Over at the SBS Food site there’s an article about blogging called Everyone’s a Critic, published on Oct 7. I’m not sure how you find it if you don’t already know it’s there. The SBS site is slick and has interesting content, including contributions from two familiar names (Ed Charles and Phil Lees). It is also the most ludicrously over-whizbanged thing and I can’t bear visiting it cos it slows my browser down to snail’s pace.

If you happen to find the article (or cleverly click on this link), you’ll find something else strange. Here, on an Australian food website, is an article that appears completely ignorant of the Australian food-blogging scene. It dwells on many of the international names. It features a mildly interesting interview with an Estonian blogger, yet there’s no Australian blogger quoted. Indeed, when I first read it, I was certain SBS must have bought a syndicated overseas piece and not bothered to adapt it — it’s a trick we’re familiar with from our favourite newspapers. But no, the writer is Australian. Pretty poor.

At the end of the article there’s a very weak attempt at adding some local relevance by listing two local blogs — yes, just two –, one of which was last active eight months ago and was hardly prominent during its seven months of actual life (no disrespect to the owner).

It’s also comical that the article’s title (Everyone’s a Critic) bears no relation to the content. The article steers almost completely clear of foodblogging in its often controversial restaurant-review form.

Not sure if this was a case of how-many-markets-can-I-sell-this-to, an editorial flop, or a writer lacking understanding of local relevance. Whatever the reason, it was a bloody slack effort.

Stop cows from eating grass!

I used to like it when Spring arrived. But this year I’ve had enough. The milk tastes foul at the moment. In the tradition of psychological separation from the provenance of food, I demand that my milk taste yummy all year round!

My coffee tastes like grass! Ewwww. Instead of a caffĂš latte, I have a caffĂš verde di erba. Icky. My espresso con un po ‘di latte is now an espresso del prato. Ugh. For the last month I’ve been buying one bottle of milk from each supermarket in the hope of guaranteeing that someone’s cows have been fed nice, regular, neutral industrial feed! I then mix the yummy and the yucky to achieve something palatable.

So, if there are any cows out there reading my words, please moo your farmer into submission… no more nature! Boycott grass!

That’s all.

Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food hits our screens

Jamie Oliver’s latest social project television program, Jamie’s Ministry of Food, hits Australian screens tomorrow (Weds 8 Sep) on Ten. I guess Australian commentators will be horrified at scenes of domestic deprivation of sorts, but I expect the stark contrast between the UK and Australia will make it seem a little unreal. I was horrified at the lack of food knowledge and the horrendous diets of so many people when I lived in the UK, not just poor working class. And that was despite functioning produce markets and often well-stocked supermarkets. Unfortunately, the hottest items in the supermarkets were preprepared, microwaveable meals. Sometimes they were quite tasty, but their flabbergasting popularity did nothing for encouraging cooking skills. Lower down the food chain, crap sausages and unspeakable budget-house-brand pork pies did nothing for nourishment.

Most of Australia is a long way from this, despite our regular breast-beating about the state of the nation’s eating habits. Jamie’s Ministry of Food should serve as a warning of a state of affairs which could happen here, but most likely wouldn’t.

There has been a lot of discussion in the UK about Jamie Oliver’s new series. Of course, some of this is gratuitous Jamie-bashing (and he can come across as an ignorant twirp at times), but the various commentators’ positions are quite fascinating… criticising Jamie Oliver for being everything from clueless to egotistical to self-promoting to arrogant to middle-class-arrogant to worthy to… phew!

Felicity Lawrence in the Guardian (01 Oct) — found via Limes&Lycopene
Word of Mouth in the Guardian (01 Oct) — and check out the comments!!
Rob Lyons at Spiked! (01 Oct) — a very different perspective

As misluck would have it, I’ll be working when the first episode screens here… but I guess footage will turn up elsewhere eventually.

Paper Chef: beetroot and ginger kuih with apple purée

I’ve been following the monthly Paper Chef event for quite a while now. You are given four primary ingredients with which to create a dish. After the announcement of the ingredients, you have about a week to present your idea. It’s about the food, not the photography. Some very interesting dishes from entrants all over the world have won. Last month’s winner, Pia of Serendipity, Synchronicity and Saffron, is this month’s host.

This month the ingredients were

  • beetroot
  • ginger
  • rice
  • apple

I loved this selection! All flavours marry well, at least in some forms.

Beetroot is simultaneously lovely and tricky. It’s cell structure means that it doesn’t happily soften like many other vegetables or fruit and nor does it form a smooth paste when blitzed. This meant that texture could be an issue. It can also taste strongly earthy if served plain. Ginger plays well with the earthy notes, helping to bring out some sweetness and complexity. Apple is a friend of both, but combining them in a way which was more than, say, a salad was a welcome challenge. And there was the rice…

I pondered soups, but felt the rice was a problem. I contemplated making a type of mochi (Japanese riceflour balls) filled with the other ingredients. And I thought about stuffing whole roasted beetroots, but felt I was dwelling too much on form over flavour. Finally, I decided to try creating something vaguely similar to the layered Malaysian/Indonesian kuih (some kuih are layered ‘cakes’ of rice and a flavoured paste or agar jelly, but there are many other types as well).

Beetroot and ginger layered kuih with apple purée

Find a slice tray, bread or cake pan with walls at least 4cm high. The total volume required is approx 600ml. I used a loaf pan 17cm long x 10cm wide.

Coconut rice

  • Place 250ml of good coconut milk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a gentle boil.
  • Add 125ml of jasmine rice, stir, then simmer very gently for approx 10 mins.
  • When there is just a little liquid still left, cover the saucepan tightly and turn off the heat. Leave for 20 mins.
  • Line your slice tray or pan with foil. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bit crinkly. The foil needs to reach about 5cm up the sides.
  • Make a well-packed even layer of rice in the tray, about 1-1.5cm high.
  • Note that the rice may taste somewhat savoury or just rather plain. The rest of the dish will compensate for that.

Beetroot and ginger jelly

  • Peel one smallish beetroot (about 180gm), then grate. I used a medium ribbon Microplane grater.
  • Trim and then slice approx 2cm of fresh ginger (about 8gm) into 2mm slices.
  • Place in a saucepan with 1 litre of water and 50gm of sugar. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
  • Simmer until tender, approx 20min.
  • Using a slotted spoon, remove the beetroot and ginger to a small bowl. Discard the pieces of ginger.
  • Pour the liquid into a measuring jug. Keep 500ml and discard the rest.
  • Return the 500ml of liquid to the saucepan.
  • Keep the liquid hot, but not boiling, and briskly whisk in 10gm (17ml) of powdered gelatine*.
  • Keep stirring until the crystals have completely dissolved. Add the beetroot and allow the liquid to cool gradually.
  • When the beetroot and liquid starts to thicken, pour over the layer of rice and smooth the surface. The beetroot layer will be about 1cm deep. The liquid may seep into the rice, depending on how thick it is when you pour it on. Though the separation of layers is less pretty (see photos) it makes for interesting colours!
  • Refrigerate until set, approx 2 hours.
  • * The amount of gelatine you need will depend on the brand. I used a product where 10gm powder sets 500ml of water. Note that kuih jellies/set purĂ©es would usually use agar or other non-gelatine setting agents. Agar jellies are generally firmer and less elastic. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any agar to hand while making this, and I can’t decide which option would be best texturally. Agar is the better choice if concerned about dietary/religious acceptability.

Apple purée

  • Peel and core two mildly sweet apples suitable for cooking, e.g. Royal Gala or Braeburn. You want an apple with a touch of tartness.
  • Chop into pieces and add to a saucepan with 125ml water and 20ml good coconut milk.
  • Cover and simmer gently until soft. Add extra water if necessary.
  • Take a 1cm lump of crystallised ginger (or preserved stem ginger). Trim off the sugar-coated surfaces. Grate or chop into fine pieces.
  • When the apple is of a mashable consistency, uncover and let any remaining liquid evaporate.
  • Add the chopped ginger and then mash the apple.


  • When the jelly has set, spread the apple purĂ©e evenly over the jelly. The layer will be about 0.5cm deep. Chill for an hour.
  • Lift the kuih (in its foil) out of the pan. Place the foil package on a chopping board. Gently pull the foil walls away from the kuih.
  • At this point you can either carefully transfer the kuih from the foil to a serving platter, or (more safely) cut the kuih into 3cm squares and then lift each piece off.


This sweet presents a very different flavour profile from a traditional kuih, so I hope readers won’t mind me using that label for this dish. For one thing, this is less sweet than traditional kuih (which can be quite a sugar-shock for a Northern European palate, at least!). My attempt to offset the sweetness of the rice and beetroot by using a slightly tart, ginger-warm apple purĂ©e is also within Western approaches to balancing sweetness with other elements.

Australian National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey

The findings of the 2007 Australian National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey were released today. There’s been a little media attention, and I guess this will ramp up as the dailies run it and the various ‘stakeholders’ start saying their piece. The results? Depends who you listen to.

To quote a key finding

72 per cent of children surveyed were at a healthy weight; 17 per cent of boys and girls were classified as overweight; 6 per cent were obese; and 5 per cent were found to be underweight.

Interesting stuff. I’ve written previously [1,2] about the exploitation of inadequate data or misleading studies to harass overweight people and everyone else too. The data in the present study can be spun as cause for concern, but I’m happy to look at it more optimistically. 17% of children were classed as overweight. That’s less than one fifth of children. If you include the obese children, that’s a little more than a fifth.

Given the absolute wall of ‘obesity epidemic’ noise we face every week (sometimes every day) in our newspapers and on the television, a finding that approximately one fifth of children are overweight does not leave me reaching for the emergency button. In fact, I’d say the number of chubby kids in my primary school years might not have been particularly different. (I should hunt out the old school class photos!)

I was also heartened to read this finding:

On the days surveyed, 69 per cent of the children met the National Physical Activity Guidelines (at least one hour of moderate to vigorous activity each day).

It could be better. It could be a hell of a lot worse. Almost three quarters of kids are reasonably active, despite having computers and televisions and mobile phones and game machines in their lives (and, presumably, being ferried around in 4WDs).

Measures of dietary intakes were much less positive, though I was surprised that total fat intake was within national guidelines. More depressingly, almost all performance on the various measures (activity, weight, diet) deteriorated with age (the oldest participants were 16 years old).

The survey covered 4000 children and on the face of it the methodology looks reasonable, although self-reported food information isn’t ideal. Nonetheless, the dietary results weren’t good, and it’s unlikely people were exaggerating how unhealthily they were eating. Of more concern is the overrepresentation of rich households (>A$78k pa) and the underrepresentation of poor households (<A$32k pa) in the study.

Most interestingly of all (I saved the juiciest for last), note these observations in the main report (my italics):

  • Underweight and obese children tended to have a lower physical activity level (Pal) than children of normal weight.
  • Obese children tended to report lower energy intakes than children of normal weight.
  • There was found to be no clear association between reported energy intake and level of physical activity.

(report page 2)

All up, this study appears to contribute some useful, clear information which is hard to massively misrepresent (unlike a heap of other studies out there). The demographic imbalance in the sample is unfortunate, and as far as I can see the report omits any demographic breakdown of the data, which seems irresponsible given the common claim that poor families are most likely to be overweight and have a poor diet. The full data are available for further analysis, so I hope we’ll see this gap in analysis addressed.