14 April, 2009

Bayside Creams and Easter Dreams

Perhaps it is my inborn American nature, inspired by the upcoming sacred holy time of Tax Day, but something about this time of year brings out my inner spreadsheet guru and has me thinking in terms of Compounded Interest and Adjusted Net Worth.

One might think this would lead to a detailed description of how to scrimp, save, go frugal and add to your bottom line, but alas, I'm still figuring out such things, myself. What I will happily share is the only enjoyable chore I've had over the past week, in the few hours I've spent free of the Excel spreadsheets—cooking!

In an effort to stay somewhat on theme, I present two cost-saving wonders.

The first is a deliciously decadent seafood soup that costs a mere $8.40 AUD for the entire batch. That's enough to feed four, and it's even cheaper if you grow your own veggies and herbs.

Chowder By the Bay

1 each potato, carrot, celery, diced finely
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tsp butter
1 tsp olive oil
3 tsps herb mix (thyme, oregano, marjoram, basil, rosemary, sage, bay leaf)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsps plain flour
2 cups low-salt chicken stock
1 splash red wine
1 cup milk
2 rounded tbsps Mascarpone
500g Marinara Mix (i.e. mixed seafood), divided
Salt & Pepper, to taste

Substitution: I only used Mascarpone because I was out of cream. If you have cream, switch the milk & mascarpone for 1 cup cream.

Chop vegetables into a large soup pot. Add in butter, oil (to prevent butter burning), herbs, and garlic. Stir in flour to coat all the veggies and sautee over medium-high heat until the aroma is strong, but the veggies should not brown.

Slowly pour in the chicken stock and a simple splash of wine, allowing the heat to remain consistent. Simmer for 10-15 minutes.

While the soup simmers, divide your seafood. Most "Marinara Mixes" (for Americans, this has nothing to do with red pasta sauce!) contain cooked clams or mussels, raw shrimp/prawns, chopped raw fish fillets like salmon and haddock, and cooked cuttlefish and/or squid. Divide out the fish fillets as these take a little longer to cook. Set shrimp, clams, and squid aside.

Pour milk into the soup pot and slowly stir in Mascarpone, allowing all the ingredients to meld nicely. Return to a low simmer and drop in the fish fillet chunks. Cook for only a few minutes until the flesh begins to firm. Only then, stir in remaining seafood and heat until the shrimp is just pink. Overcooking will toughen clams and squid.

Season lightly with salt & pepper, then serve hot with thick slices of your favorite bread.

Idea: Next time, I'll be planning ahead and serving these San Francisco style, in fresh, warm sourdough bread bowls. Give it a try! You'll think you're sitting right on Fisherman's Wharf.

Sweet Cross Buns

300 ml (1 1/3 cups) milk
1/4 cup sugar
2 pkgs yeast (about 14 g total)
3 tbsps butter, melted
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups bread flour
1 good pinch of salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 cup dried fruit, chopped finely

1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
A few tbsps water

1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp honey

Heat oven to 150 C (300 F). Pour some boiling water into a pie plate and set the plate on the lowest rack of the oven, with the highest rack being near middle. After 10 minutes, turn the oven off and let it rest.

Warm the milk in a saucepan or microwave to a temperature which is warm to the touch, but not hot. Whisk in sugar until deserved. Gently mix in yeast and allow to sit for 10 or so minutes, or until a creamy foam appears on top.

While the yeast is proofing, mix together flour, salt, and spices. In a small dish, soak dried fruit in warm tap water, until lightly plumped, then fold through the flour mixture. For choice of fruits, currants are common. I've used raisins, sultanas, and currants. Once your yeast has proofed, slowly stir in melted butter. Make a well in the center of your flour mixture, then add wet ingredients to dry and mix well.

On a floured surface, knead the dough until fully combined. After 8-10 minutes of kneading, the dough should be beautifully smooth and soft. Place the kneaded dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with oiled plastic wrap and place into your warmed oven. The warmth and moisture will help the dough rise. (I had one batch fail to rise with too little moisture!)

Let the dough rise for an hour, or until doubled in size. Punch the dough down gently, turn onto your floured work area and gently press into a rectangular shape. Cut dough into even squares, scissors work well, and tile across the bottom of a large, lightly oiled, baking pan. Re-cover and rise in the warm oven for another 30-45 minutes, or until again doubled in size.

In a small dish, blend together 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar with a bit of water. The goal is a medium-thick paste. Spoon into a plastic zipper bag. Snip off one bottom corner of the bag and use as a piping tool. Remove the risen buns from the oven and uncover. Pipe cross-like lines over the buns while you pre-heat the oven to 200 C / 390 F.

Put the buns in the oven (no puns!) and bake for 20-25 minutes until the whole house smells delicious and the buns are nicely browned.

In the small dish you used before, melt 1 tbsp butter and stir in 2 tbsps honey. Take the buns from the oven and then brush lightly in the honey-butter glaze. Allow to cool a bit in the pan.

Best served warm or re-heated, and eat them fast! These go stale within a couple short days, but freeze well for up to one week.

Alternative idea: Try subbing fresh or dried apple and finely chopped walnuts for the currant mix and glaze with butter and maple syrup. A yummy Autumn treat for those Down Under, celebrating Easter in the Fall.

To make French Toast: Simple as can be. Whisk up two eggs, a splash of milk, and a touch of vanilla. Cut stale hot cross buns in half, width-wise and soak in the egg bath until spongy, but still intact. Melt some butter in a large pan and fry the soaked buns, cross-side up, until golden brown. Flip, fry some more, then serve with butter and maple syrup, sprinkled confectioner's sugar (icing sugar), honey, or fruit.


Margo said...

OK so the end of the tax year isn't for 2.5 months and you're getting excited already? You are one sad cookie :) You need to find something else exciting to spreadsheet LOL

LOVE the idea for stale hot crossed bun french toast - genius! Unfortunately mine didn't make it long enough to actually go stale.... oh well.

On another past matter I made a pumpkin and sweet potato soup last week with a good dose of red lentils which made it seem (to me anyway) creamy - maybe that plus yoghurt would satisfy hubby's creamy soup craving without breaking the calorie bank?

Oh and I'm at 43kg of tomatoes so if the frosts hold off another week or so I think I'll catch your yield. Isn't it sad to be getting competitive about tomatoes :)

Kelly the City Mouse said...

LOL! Welllll... Tax Day for the US is April 15th, so I think it's just too engrained in my persona. I'm an odd duck that actually enjoys filling out forms and other random accpunting nonsense. But the real motivation was to get our spending under control. Not that it was terribly OUT of control, but we spend TONS on food. So, yeah. I spent like 72 sleepless hours working out payrates and billing schedules and spending allowances from now til Xmas! Cooking was my only salvation hehe.

Definitely give the bun-toast thing a try if you ever have a spare few buns. It was AWESOME. With the bread already spiced it just had this amazing flavor.

Re: Pumpkin...yes! That sounds delish. I'd love the details. We're also investing in a yogurt maker soon, woohoo!

Competition is healthy ;) But I don't know whether to congratulate you or pity you! I was so sick of chopping tomatoes by the end of harvest that I've hardly used a single one we canned/froze.

Margo said...

you ask for details in that confident way as though I use a recipe :) I'm actually a stand-back-and-throw kinda cook most of hte time, but I'll post about that and the tomatoes today/tomorrow.

Our tomato harvest has been over a month or so, so I'm not sick of it. In fact I enjoy the preserving in the way you enjoy accounting, as it means another year without having to buy tinned tomatoes.

We also spend tonnes on food, but that's kinda buy choice (I buy local and/or organic wherever possible) - have you seen that canadian show till debt do us part? I've moved to her 'jar' system for food and entertainment - so we only use cash for that stuff (unless it's an extraordinary shop) and that really helps me stay on the fortnightly food budget.

Kelly the City Mouse said...

The jar system will definitely come next if my dictator-like monitoring of accounts and reciepts fails.

I envy your joy in preserving. For me, it is fun for the first hour or day or so. Then it becomes mind-numbing drudgery. Of course, it could have something to do with the icky ironic timing of each of our tomato blitzes...right on time with each bout of 45C weather we got! We might plant later, next season.

Can't wait to see what you get up to with all your harvested goodies!