Disappearing act

I can’t believe it’s been, oh, five months since I posted. I wrote more articles, freelanced a bit more, started a new job (at a uni, where I get to try and discover new things), and decided (after much deliberation) not to pay for reliable internet. All of this means the time I used to spend blogging is now directed towards other adventures. I’ll leave the recipes I’ve already posted here, though, in case they come in handy. I know I still use this collection from time to time.

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A few more of my recent articles

Cute animals and fire–how very Australian.

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Flashback to sophomore year

I haven’t been cooking much lately, but I’m still writing.  Have a look at my article on a recently-discovered album of Australian colonial art.

Funnily enough, my first story at Australian Geographic takes me back to my sophomore year art beat.  I was expecting something more science-driven, somehow, but there’s still time. In the meantime, I’m getting a crash course in Australian history and culture.

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Curried raw kale, roasted red pepper, and spelt salad

It’s spring here, so I’ve been enjoying my life here in Sydney by refinishing furniture (as pictured here),

replanting seeds, and getting up to my usual shenanigans in the kitchen. This curried salad is from one of my CSA box experiments, and uses up some of the first signs of summer’s impending heat in the form of a roasted red pepper and some beautiful curly kale. I can’t wait until I have enough of my own produce to try a version of this from our balcony garden.

Curried raw kale, roasted red pepper, and spelt salad

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Springtime in Australia

The wildflowers are out in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and our dwarf Meyer lemon tree looks like it is about to bloom.  Springtime here doesn’t come with quite the feeling of euphoric relief I used to get at a long, snowy winter’s end, but it’s pleasant all the same. I think I’m finally learning to enjoy Australia’s more subtle approach to the changing of seasons.

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Gluten-free bread, take 2

I’m teaching a course on bread in about a month’s time, and I have yet to develop a perfect gluten-free recipe to share with students. This one comes pretty close, though–particularly in comparison to my last effort, which was more scone-like in consistency than this batch, and inherited an unfortunate aftertaste from some bad millet flour.

This is freshly-mixed dough, before the rise. I've tossed the ball in a bit of olive oil to keep it from sticking. Next time, I'll shape the loaf from the start, so I don't disturb the structure post-rise.

This version gets its taste from a combination of sorghum, buckwheat, and almond flours.  The buckwheat is probably the most noticeable flour in this bread; it has a strong flavor that I like, but it can be swapped out for something else if it’s not to your taste. The almond flour provides moistness, and I believe the sorghum is responsible for the relatively light texture of the bread. It has a mild flavor, so it’s a good choice as a base flour for baked goods.

Here's the dough post-rise. It feels kind of spongy when you press on it. It does not rise much, especially not in comparison to normal bread, and will not rise much in the oven, either.

To create the spongy structure of the bread without gluten, I used a chia seed slurry (ground chia seeds, boiling water) and added in some psyllium husk for good measure (which I first read about here).  Both ground chia seeds and psyllium husks mimic gluten by creating gel-like strands when mixed with water; these strands reinforce the structure of the rising bread and give it a nice crumb, which can often be difficult to achieve with gluten-free flours.  You can also use a flax / linseed slurry if you prefer, and can supplement with xanthan gum as noted below.

Gluten-free buckwheat bread

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Gluten-free bread, Experiment 1

It looks edible, at least.  This is my first attempt at gluten-free bread, and the crumb has worked out pretty well. It’s light, airy, and not what I expected, texture-wise, for gluten-free bread.  The taste? Well… These rolls ended up with an incredibly bitter aftertaste.  We’ll just call this experiment #1 and leave it at that.

I did learn a few interesting things along the way, however, which I thought might be worth sharing.

Lesson #0: Gluten Free Girl’s gum-free version of gluten-free bread is an excellent recipe to start with. 

Some of the ingredients aren’t readily available here in Australia, so I am on my own in terms of the final combination of flours, etc, I use. I’m also hoping to make a vegan version of this bread. I have relied on the weight ratios, etc, she uses in this recipe as a starting point.  At least as far as texture goes, I’m on the right track.

Lesson #1: It is possible to make gluten-free bread without weird ingredients.

Yes, “weird” may be a fairly subjective term in this case, but I tend to think that chia seeds are pretty easy to get. I used freshly ground chia seeds in this experiment; when you mix them with boiling water and let the mix cool, you get a stretchy, almost putty-like paste. The chia seed “slurry,” as Gluten Free Girl (a.k.a. Shauna) calls it, looks like this:

You can apparently use flax/linseed or psyllium husk in place of the chia seeds, both of which I intend to try. These ingredients work because they are all pretty high in dietary fiber, some portion of which forms long chains of sugars that can be used to stabilize foams. Bread, as it turns out, is essentially a set foam, so anything that helps foams set properly could work in gluten-free bread.

Lesson #2: Gluten-free dough is really wet. 

It does not feel like normal dough. There is no window-pane test, you will not create a nice, taut ball of dough, and you should add as little flour as possible. In fact, I followed my usual rule for scones and avoided working this dough more than I had to. I think it paid off in the end, as the bread ended up fairly light considering the ingredients I used.

Lesson #3: This bread looks funny when it rises.

Yes, that’s two hours after the dough was mixed. It did rise a bit, but not a lot, and definitely looked nothing like normal bread dough.  I was able to shape it easily enough, at least.

Lesson #4: Too much buckwheat does not a tasty bread make, perhaps? Or I need to be more careful about where I get my flour.

I stuck to the same flour:starch weight ratios defined by Gluten Free Girl (weight ratios really are the key to making a good loaf of bread in any situation), but I changed the flours (to millet, buckwheat) and the starches (to potato, tapioca). I definitely used a lot more buckwheat than most recipes I’ve found.  At first, I thought this might have been it, but then I remembered the last buckwheat noodles I cooked. They didn’t taste bitter at all, and they were all buckwheat. Perhaps my millet flour was bad? If so, well… Bad news for the co-op, because that’s where I got it.  I’ll have to do a taste test and see what I find.  As for the next experiment, I’ll try a different set and proportion of flours, but stick to a similar technique. I think I will also add some olive oil next time, just to make it taste a bit richer.

The verdict?

I’ll spare you the recipe. This one simply isn’t ready for release yet.

Forgive the photos. Our apartment is dark, and as is typical for Sydney, the only place I could store a light-box for photos is in the bathroom.

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