fruit & vegetables

Pass The Pumpkins Please

Our local coffee shop makes the best coffee. I mean it’s really, really good. The only problem is everyone wants one! And they don’t take reservations on the weekends. So if you don’t get there early enough you go on a waiting list, or you order one to go. The coffee is so good that it has inspired me to roll out of bed early on the weekends and get there just after it opens – 8.00am!! And while I’m there, I sometimes have breakfast as well. My favourite breakfast? – pancakes 🙂

The walnut pancakes with side orders of bacon and hash browns were my favourite. Sadly they’ve changed the menu for summer and the latest pancake offering is okay, but not fantastic. This made me think – why don’t I make my own pancakes when I get home? I’ve made buttermilk pancakes before, which were delicious, but I wanted something different. The first flavour that came to mind was pumpkin pancakes. The only problem was my partner Paul doesn’t particularly like pumpkin. I didn’t want to make a batch just for myself because I knew I would eat them all 🙂 How could I tempt him to try pumpkin pancakes? There was only one way – add them to my cookbook. As my main taste-tester he could hardly refuse!

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We wanted to make our own pumpkin puree so our preparations for Sunday pancakes began Saturday night. Here’s what we did:

Preheated our oven to 180C / 350F.
Removed pumpkin seeds from pumpkin and kept them aside to make pepitas.
Cut the pumpkin into pieces and placed in a baking tray. Sprinkled lightly with olive oil and baked until cooked. When cool enough to handle, we removed the skin from the pumpkin and discarded it. We mashed the pumpkin with a potato masher until smooth and refrigerated it for the next day.

To make pepitas, we separated the seeds from the remaining pulp surrounding them. Rather than discard this pulp, we thought we’d try baking it too.
We preheated the oven to 200C / 400F and lined two baking trays with baking paper.
We dried the seeds with paper towel, tossed them in olive oil and salt and then spread them out on one of the baking trays. We tossed the pulp in olive oil and salt and placed it on the remaining tray. We baked the seeds for about 10 minutes until they were crispy and the pulp for about 15 minutes until it was caramelised. The seeds and pulp were eaten straight away! They were so delicious I almost couldn’t wait for Sunday to make the pancakes – but I did 🙂 Here is the recipe:

Pumpkin Pancakes
Makes 4 fluffy pancakes.
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Ingredients
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 + 1/4 cup plain flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
extra butter for frying

Instructions
Whisk together the buttermilk, pumpkin, egg and butter in a large bowl until combined.
In a separate bowl, add the flour, sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt and mix until combined.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.
Allow to rest for 5 minutes.
Heat some butter in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat.
Pour in 1/3 cup of batter.
Cook for 1-3 minutes or until it starts to form bubbles.
Flip and cook for a further 1-3 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.
Repeat with remaining batter.

Well I’m happy to say that both Paul and I loved the pancakes! Paul had his with butter and maple syrup and I had mine with sour cream and crispy fried prosciutto. Naturally we tried each other’s to see which was best. I loved my savoury ones but I think Paul’s sweet ones were better.

We can’t wait to make them again. If you make them let me know which topping you prefer – sweet, savoury or both!!

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A Mountain Of Recipes

Some of my earliest and happiest memories from my childhood are of sitting with my mother reading cookbooks and cutting recipes out of magazines. I still love collecting and reading cookbooks and I am constantly trying to find the best way to organise the mounds of recipes from magazines I have accumulated over many years. With all the resources offered on the internet, I now have online recipe files that are bulging at the seams! I sometimes think I will be buried in recipes 🙂

But one of the not so pleasant memories is of mother’s mega-decluttering sessions where she would toss out stuff without you knowing. In one of these sessions she threw out all the cooking books! When I found out, I was devastated. There was one book that I had loved so much and it was gone. The Encyclopedia of European Cooking was published in 1962 – before I was even born. I remember devouring the recipes which were organised by country or region. The recipe that fired my vampiric imagination the most was the Finnish “Blood Pancakes!” Not surprisingly it also turned my stomach!! I mourned the loss of that cookbook and often thought about it when I was researching and creating recipes for my own cookbooks.

Then, decades later, I was reading an article on the history of food in the cooking section of one of our newspapers. It was written by the owner of a shop called Books For Cooks. My mouth dropped open – a bookstore with just cooking books in it!! I had to get there and fast. Luckily it wasn’t too far. The staff were so wonderful and I told them the story of my lost cookbook. Unfortunately I couldn’t remember the title. And to confuse the issue, I was convinced it was a world cuisine cookbook. The staff pointed me to the section where it could be and I slowly and carefully read the spines of the books but I didn’t find it.

Dejected, I went to the European section to look for Romanian or Macedonian cookbooks. As I slowly read the titles one stood out – my hand shook slightly as I grabbed the familiar looking book. Luckily there was a couch near by and I fell into it. Could this be the book? There was only one way to find out. I went to the index and looked up “Blood Pancakes.” I must say I cried a little when I saw the recipe was there. This was the book!! I never thought I would ever see it again and now I had in my hand. I ran to the counter, waving my credit card. I actually hadn’t even looked at the price! Luckily it was really reasonably priced and I hugged it all the way back to the car.

There are so many recipes I can’t wait to try and I’m hoping to share my European cooking adventures with you!

Below is my version of “Imam Bayeldi” or The Imam Swooned, a stuffed eggplant dish simmered in olive oil.  And why did the Imam swoon?

The popular story is that the Imam found the dish so divinely delicious when he tasted it that he nearly nearly fainted from pleasure.

Other versions suggests the Imam nearly fainted at how expensive the dish was to make or at how expensive the ingredients were.

A longer version has the Imam marrying the daughter of a wealthy olive oil merchant. Part of her dowry was 12 jars of the finest olive oil. The Imam asked her to prepare his favourite eggplant dish each evening which she did for twelve nights. On the thirteenth night she told the Imam they had no more olive oil for his eggplant dish. He was so shocked he fainted!

Why don’t you try it and decide for yourself why the Imam Swooned 🙂

Imam Bayeldi

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Ingredients
2 medium eggplants
1 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 green capsicum, seeded and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
sea salt and pepper to taste

Method
Preheat oven to 170C / 325F. 
Wash, dry and cut the stems off the eggplants.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Gently cook the eggplants for 10 minutes turning half way through. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the onions and capsicum to the oil and gently cook for 10 minutes.
Cut the eggplants in half lengthways and being careful not to split the skins, scoop out some of the flesh into a medium sized bowl.
Remove the cooked onions and capsicums from the oil with a slotted spoon and add to the eggplant flesh. Add the garlic, tomato, parsley, cinnamon, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.
Fill the eggplant skins with the mixture.
Place eggplants in a small baking dish and pour over the remaining cooking oil.
Bake for 1 hour.
Serve at room temperature.