Popcorn Butterscotch Squares

popcorn-butterscotch-squaresNow that the kids are back at school its time to start thinking about lunchbox fillers. Mind you that isn’t as hard as you think if you have the Australian Women’s Weekly Little Squares & Slices cookbook on hand

My friend Tammy makes amazing slices for her family of 5 children to pop into their lunch boxes and for after school snacks and this is one I am sure you will all love.

 


 Popcorn Butterscotch Squares

Prep + cook time 30 minutes (+ refrigeration)
Makes 24
Store squares in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Ingredients:-

• 250g (8 ounces) butternut snap biscuits
• 125g (4 ounces) butter, melted
• 395g (12 ½ ounces) canned sweetened condensed milk
• 30g (1 ounce) butter, extra
• 4 cups (40g) air-popped salted popcorn
• ½ cup (40g) toasted shredded coconut
• 185g (6 ounces) milk eating chocolate, melted

Method:
1. Grease 20cm x 30cm (8-inch x 12-inch) rectangular pan; line base and long sides with baking paper, extending paper 5 cm (2 inches) over sides.

2. Process biscuits until fine. Add butter; process until combined. Press mixture firmly over base of pan. Refrigerate 30 minutes or until firm.

3. Meanwhile, combine condensed milk and extra butter in a medium heavy-based saucepan; cook, stirring, over medium heat, about 10 minutes or until mixture is a caramel colour. Remove from heat; quickly stir in the popcorn and coconut.

4. Working quickly with wet hands, spread and firmly press popcorn mixture over base. Spread chocolate over slice. Refrigerate about 30 minutes or until set before cutting.

the-australian-womens-weekly-little-squares-&-slicesThe recipe is taken from the Australian Women’s Weekly ‘little squares & slices’ cookbook.

I doubt there is a household in Australia that doesn’t have a copy of at least one of the Australian Women’s Weekly cookbooks.

They have an amazing range of cookbooks that cover every type of cooking that you can think of. The recipes are always easy to follow.

Each recipe is clearly photographed so that you can see what the finished dish should look like. The recipes aren’t complicated and  because they are all tested before publication, they work – every time.

 

Healthy Home-made Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes – Couldn’t be easier

We both recently started making our own bread. One reason for this is that we are eating more and more organic foods and growing our own veges so making our own bread was just one more step towards knowing what we are eating. Commercial bread is full of additives and preservatives.  We know exactly what goes into our bread.

The bread recipe we use is from the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking recipe book by Jeff Hertzber and Zoe Francois, which is available in both hard copy and kindle.  We have both, but I like to work from the Kindle app on the iPad.

Now what is so great about this bread recipe?

Well it takes only 5 minutes to make, there is NO kneading required and the mixture keeps in the fridge for around 14 days so you can just pull off a lump of dough to make a fresh loaf when you need it.

The book has around 100 recipes so that you can make different kinds of bread but we generally make the basic dough mix which makes enough for four 1 pound loaves.  Although you can double or halve the recipe to suit your family’s requirements, we find that the standard recipe works well for two to four people.

Master Recipe for 5 Minute Artisan Bread:

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups lukewarm water
  • 1½ tablespoons granulated yeast (equivalent to 2 packets). I no longer use packet yeast but loose yeast granuals
  • 1½ tablespoons Kosher salt or other coarse salt
  • 6½ cups flour, unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose (not strong)
bread-making-ingredients

bread-making-ingredients

Method:

Preparing Dough for Storage:

1.. Warm the water slightly. It should feel just a little warmer than body temperature. Warm water will rise the dough to the right point for storage in about 2 hours. With cold water it will need 3-4 hours.

2. Add the yeast to the water in a 5 quart bowl or, preferably, in a resealable, lidded (not airtight) plastic food container or food-grade bucket.  I use a large Tupperware rectangular modular mate container.

Don’t worry about getting it all to dissolve.

adding-the-yeast

Adding the Yeast

yeast-added-to-warm-water

Yeast Added to the Warm Water

3. Mix in the flour and salt – kneading is unnecessary. Add all of the flour at once, measuring it in with dry-ingredient measuring cups, by gently scooping up the flour, then sweeping the top level with a knife or spatula. Don’t press down into the flour as you scoop or you’ll throw off the measurement.

Use-scoop-and-sweep-method

Use Scoop & Sweep Method

Mix with a wooden spoon, a high-capacity food processor (14 cups or larger) fitted with the dough attachment, or a heavy duty stand mixer fitted with the dough hook until the mixture is uniform. I have just started using my Cuisinart hand mixer which also did an admirable job.

If you’re hand mixing and it becomes too difficult to incorporate all the flour with the spoon, you can reach into your mixing vessel with very wet hands and press the mixture together. Don’t knead, it isn’t necessary.You know the dough is ready when everything is uniformly moist, without any dry patches. It takes a few minutes, and will yield a dough that is wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of its container.

stir-in-the-flour-into-the-yeast-mixture
Stir the flour into the yeast mixture
mixing-bread-dough

Mixing the bread dough

4. Put the dough aside to allow it to rise. Cover with lid (I just sit the lid on top of the container and don’t seal it otherwise it could explode from the trapped gases). Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on the top), approx 2 hours, depending on room temperature, and initial water temperature. It doesn’t really matter how long it takes as longer rising times, up to 5 hours, won’t harm the result.

bread-dough-rising

Bread dough rising

 

5. You can use a portion of the dough any time after this period. Fully refrigerated dough is less sticky and easier to work with than dough at room temperature.

On Baking Day:

1. You can bake this bread in a prepared loaf tim, tray, or whatever you’ choose to bake it in or on. I simply use a Pizza Stone. Sprinkle the surface of your refrigerated dough with four. Pull up and cut of a grapefruit-size piece of dough (approximately 1 lb), using a serrated knife.

2. Hold the dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it doesn’t stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all 4 sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Most of the dusting flour will fall off – that’s fine, it isn’t meant to be incorporated. The bottom of the loaf may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will sort itself out during resting and baking.

stretching-the-bread-dough

Stretch the bread dough

3. The correctly shaped final product will be smooth and cohesive. The entire process should take no more than 30 – 60 seconds.

bread-formed-and-ready-to-rise

Bread formed into roll

4. Rest the loaf and let it rise in the form, on the tray/pizza peel, for about 40 minutes. I use a small round board sprinkled with Polenta, which I find helps stops the dough sticking and helps it to easily come free when transferring it to the pizza plate.
Depending on the age of the dough, you may not see much rise during this period. That’s fine, more rising will occur during baking.

5. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450°F Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on any other shelf that won’t interfere with the rising bread.

6. Dust and Slash. Dust the top of the loaf liberally with flour, which will allow the slashing knife to pass without sticking. Slash a quarter inch deep cross, diagonal lines, or tic-tac-toe pattern on top using a serrated knife.

bread-floured-and-sliced

Bread dough floured and slashed

7. After a 20 min preheat you’re ready to bake, even though the oven thermometer won’t be at full temperature yet. Put your loaf in the oven. Pour about 1 cup of hot water (from the tap) into the broiler tray and close the oven to trap the steam.

8. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and firm to the touch.

9. Eat with your favorite topping – yummo

baked-bread

Baked bread with a golden crust

Sliced-bread-enjoy

Sliced bread ready to enjoy

9. Store the rest of the dough in the fridge in your lidded (not airtight) container and use it over the next 14 days. The flavour and texture improves, becoming like sourdough. Even 24 hours of storage improves the flavour.

This is the standard bread. There are loads of variations – both savory and sweet – in the book. I also have the Kindle version of their Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day: 100 New Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, and Gluten-Free Ingredients.

Making bread has never been easier. Forget all the fuss and bother of kneading and resting the dough for hours on end, which is how my mother used to make her homemade bread. She would have loved this recipe.

 

12 Important Tips for Excellent Food Photography

I have a lot of respect for food photographers. Until you have attempted to photograph food you have no idea how difficult it is to make food look edible. Making food appear savory is even more difficult. Because the camera fails to see the range of light which our eyes can see, we need to work overtime to to set up a food photo shoot using advanced lighting techniques and propping.

Food photography fit for a menu or a magazine is difficult work. But knowing how to set up our lights, and learning a bit about food styling, will allow you to greatly improve your food photography. Today we bring you our 12 most important tips for creating excellent food photos.

1. Light from behind. Place your most powerful light source so it comes in from a slight angle behind the food subject. The light source can be a window, or it can be a strobe. But the bottom line is you don’t want the main light to come in from the front, as it will mask the texture of the food item and make it appear flat.

2. Use Small Lights. Large light sources create a nice, even light and are generally more forgiving. However small light sources allow us to emphasize texture and moisture to a much higher degree. A small light is easier to control and direct.

3. Move in Close. Moving in close to your food subject invariably makes it look more savory. A wider shot is good when emphasizing the food subject’s role in a larger meal (for instance the turkey on a Thanksgiving Day table). But a close shot gets the viewer close and personal with the texture of the food.

4. Use Props to Combine Colors. Often times a so-so food photo can become a striking, vibrant food photo just by adding a splash of color. For instance aqua blue glasses in a blurred background can cause red meat in the foreground to pop with color. Professional food photographers spend a lot of time placing plants, colored glasses or plates, and other colorful items in the shot to emphasize the main subject. You should too. And don’t forget you can use the environment as your propping, cominining the soft blues of the sky and the ocean, and the natural greens of plant life, as compliments to your food item.

5. Use a Shallow Depth of Field. The more shallow, the better. The main focal point on your food subject should look nice and crisp, but otherwise you will be better off with the majority of the image out of focus. Not only does this help create emphasis for the main portion of our food item, it also creates wonderful blurs of color, light, and bokeh in the background.

6. Target Harsh Shadows. Soft shadows are great for emphasizing food texture and making a plate of food look tasty. But strong, harsh shadows completely destroy the image and are a nasty distraction. Use reflectors or additional light sources to fill in the shadows.

7. Collect Small Mirrors. Stop by a craft store and buy a bunch of small mirrors. The smaller, the better. Use the mirrors to reflect small light sources back at the food item, especially toward moist areas to create specular highlights. For instance, the glaze on a turkey or the filling inside a slice of pie. You can also use the mirrors to fill in the inevitable shadows.

8. Brush on Some Vegetable Oil. A little splash of oil brushed onto a food item can make a huge difference. The added moist look is great for making the subject appear more juicy and savory. One caveat. It is easy to go too far with this tip. Just brush a little oil onto the food, compose your shot, and evaluate.

9. Employ a Food Stylist. A food stylist knows how to present food in a way which makes it look as savory as possible. Small changes such as building up the vertical structure of the food, or adding a splash of color from sauce or garnishment, can make all the difference. If you don’t feel you have the skills to style food properly, contract someone who can bring out the best in your food subjects.

10. Lower the Light Source. This is another trick which will help you bring out the texture in your food sources. Lowering the light can make a big difference in emphasizing moisture and glazing. However it also creates more shadow. Soft shadows will add interest to your food and make for better quality food photos, so the more the better. However be on the lookout for strong, harsh shadows created by low light sources, and fill them in.

11. Lower the Camera Angle. I like to keep the camera between 15 and 40 degrees above the table for my initial shots. I will go higher or lower depending on what a client is interested in for the final product. But somewhere between 15 and 40 degrees is a nice place to start. I almost never consider an overhead shot. Doing so makes the food appear two dimensional by hiding its vertical structure. How low is too low? When you start to lose the top of the food, you are going too far. Otherwise, emphasize the height and three dimensionality of the food as much as possible.

12. Scrape the Light. If you are familiar with lighting, then you already know about scraping. Scraping the light in food photography is when we position the light source so that it just barely scrapes the front of the food surface. This lighting technique preserves the texture of the food, and it is my secret weapon for bringing out the best qualities of the food item.

Conclusion

Food photography is not a beginner’s photography or lighting topic. It is an advanced skill.

Employing these 12 tips will get you up and running immediately, and will make a big difference in the quality of your food photography. But like any advanced skill, you will need to be patient as you slowly perfect your craft.

Good luck, and enjoy the very rewarding topic of food photography. And don’t forget to eat your subjects!

Daniel Padavona is the founder of Warmpicture Royalty Free Images, and is an avid food photographer. He lives with his wife Terri, and their children Joey and Julia in upstate New York. When he isn’t taking his own photos, you can find him online helping others learn how to improve their photography skills.

Image Credits:

Photos provided courtesy of Warmpicture.com Royalty Free Images.

Choc-Honeycomb Ice Cream Pudding – Delicious for Celebrations or Anytime

Paula and I decided to cook dinner for her brother Wal for his birthday. For the menu we cooked wild Alaskan Salmon, a favorite of ours,  with new potatoes in parsley butter, carrots and beans from  Paula’s garden, and dessert was a delicious choc honeycomb ice cream pudding.  This dessert was taken from the Super Food Ideas magazine and believe me it is delicious.

choc-honeycomb-ice-cream-puddingChoc-honeycomb ice-cream pudding.

Ingredients:-

  • 1½ x 300g packets of chocolate sponge roles. (we used a chocolate cream filled sponge roll from Coles)
  • 2 liters hokey pokey ice cream – softened
  • 2 x 55g Violet Crumble bars, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup of dry-roasted hazelnuts, chopped

Topping:-

  • 180g block white chocolate, chopped (we used Cadbury’s Dream White Chocolate)
  • 1/3 cup thickened cream
  • strawberries – halved,
  • white chocolate curls ( I made the chocolate curls using a potato peeler)
  • silver cachous, to decorate (optional)

Method:-

Line an 8 cup capacity pudding basin with plastic wrap. (Good luck doing that, I found it to be a bit fiddly).

Cut the chocolate rolls into 1 cm thick slices. Reserve 4 slices. Line the base and side of the prepared pan with remaining cake slices, trimming to fit.

Place the softened ice cream in a bowl. Fold in the roughly chopped Violet Crumble and the chopped hazelnuts.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan, Level the top with a spatula and arrange the reserved cake slices over the top of the ice cream, pressing slightly to secure.

Cover with plastic wrap, then foil and freeze overnight.

Topping:-

Place white chocolate and cream in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave on medium (50%) for 2 to 3 minutes or until smooth, stirring with a metal spoon every 30 seconds. Set aside for 15 minutes to cool slightly.

Decorating:-

Turn the pudding onto a plate. Remove the plastic wrap.

Spoon 1/3 of the chocolate sauce over the pudding. Stand for 5 minutes.

Decorate with strawberries, chocolate curls and cachous. Serve with the remaining chocolate sauce.

I didn’t read the last part of the recipe and so added all the topping instead of just 1/3 , but it turned out fine and it tasted fantastic.  The topping is not too sweet and the hidden bits of violet crumble and hazelnuts certainly add a touch of pizazz to the delicious hokey pokey ice cream. We also served it with extra strawberries and cream.

I will certainly make this dessert again.

Many thanks to Super Food Ideas Magazine.

Grasshopper Pie – Courtesy Nigella Lawson – Adults Only – Decadently Delicious.

grasshopper-pie

For this one I used a larger tart pan, if you use a smaller pan the pie is higher and looks much more impressive. This pie has grated chocolate on the top.

I have a few celebrity chefs that I love to watch on tv as they demonstrate their recipes with such ease and aplomb.

So the other night I was watching one of my all time favorites – Nigella Lawson.  I mean to say who doesn’t love watching this amazing woman whip up her delicious, taste tempting recipe – not me for one. I am an absolute convert. I have a range of her cookbooks and DVDs

So here I am tucked up on the lounge when she begins to make a Grasshopper Pie. On hearing the ingredients I’m intrigued, and decide that I have to try this out on the family, which I did over the holiday break.  Everyone loved it and so I think it is only fair that I share Nigella’s delightful recipe with you all. I hope she doesn’t mind.

The Grasshopper Pie recipe is from her book ‘Nigella Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home, which is absolutely chock full of wonderful, mouth watering recipes.


Grasshopper Pie

Ingredients:-

Base

28 chocolate creme filled sandwich cookies ( I used Oreo’s)

2 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped ( I used ¼ cup dark chocolate chips)

3 Tsps soft unsalted butter

Filling

3 cups mini marshmallows
( I had trouble finding packets with just white marshmallows. And unfortunately the pink marshmallows do dilute the color. The second time I made it I just used large marshmallows and it worked just as well)

½ cup whole milk ( I don’t use a lot of milk so I keep long life whole milk in the cupboard for visitors who take milk in their tea, and this is what I used and it works fine)

¼ cup creme de menthe

¼ cup creme de cacao blanc

1½ cups heavy cream

Few drops green coloring (optional) I used a few drops because the pink marshmallows had softened the green color.

Method:

Base

Set aside 1 cookie for later use as decoration. (I forgot the second time I made it so I just grated chocolate over).

Process the remaining cookies and chocolate in a food processor until they form a crumb mixture.

Add the butter and process until the mixture starts to clump together.

Press the mixture into a high-sided fluted tart pan making a smooth base and sides with your hands or the back of a spoon. (Not having a fluted pan I just used a plain spring pan and it looks just as nice when the pie is turned out)

Put into the refrigerator to chill and harden.

Filling

Melt the marshmallows  in a saucepan over a low gentle heat along with the milk.

Once the milk starts to foam (not boil), take the pan off the heat and keep stirring until the marshmallows blend into the milk to make a smooth mixture.

Pour the mixture out of the saucepan into a heatproof bowl, then whisk in the creme de menthe and the creme de cacao. Leave until cool.

(I poured the mixture into a stainless steel bowl which of course was holding the heat so I placed the bowl into some cold water in the sink to quickly cool it down.)

In a medium bowl, whisk the cream until it starts to hold in soft peaks, then still whisking, add the cooled marshmallow mixture.  The filling should be thick but still soft, not stiff or dry, so that eventually, it will drop easily out of the bowl into the chilled pie crust.

When the marshmallow mixture and cream are combined, whisk in a few drops of food coloring, if desired.

Spread the filling into the chilled base, swirling it about with an icing spatula or silicon spatula to fill evenly.  Put the pie in the refrigerator, covered , to chill overnight or for a minimum of 4 hours until firm.

Crush the remaining cookie and sprinkle it over the top of the pie before serving.

MAKE AHEAD NOTE:

This pie can be made 1 or 2 days ahead. When chilled and firm, tent with aluminum foil ( try not to touch the surface with the foil as it will leave marks) and store in the refrigerator. Decorate just before serving. The pie will keep for around 3 to 4 days.

FREEZER NOTE:

The pie can be frozen for up to 3 months. Open-freeze undecorated pie just until solid, then wrap the pie (still in its tart pan) in a double layer of plastic wrap and a layer of foil.

To Thaw

Unwrap the pie and tent with foil, (try not to touch the surface with the foil as it will leave marks), then  thaw overnight in the refrigerator.  Decorate before serving.

My family, friends an I just love this pie. It’s just for adults and it’s decadently delicious.

NON- Alcoholic Version

For a non-alcoholic version you can replace the cream de menthe and creme de cacao with ½ tsp (2.5mls) of peppermint extract. It isn’t necessary to make up the amount of lost liquid by not adding the alcohol.  It is advisable to use a good quality natural peppermint extract instead of an artificial peppermint flavoring.

As you won’t be getting the green coloring from the creme de menthe you will need to add some green coloring otherwise you won’t get the desired effect as the pie will be white.