Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Happy Birthday to E and GGGiraffe

I love any excuse to bake a cake (though who needs an excuse). My first blog post, 2 years ago, was E’s birthday cake so it now happens that my blog anniversary coincides with E’s birthday. Before I tell you about the cake I baked to celebrate, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on the blog.

The fact that I started hand writing this post on the back of a doctor’s bill while waiting for 8 week old Sylvia to have her first immunisation shots is a sign of how my life has changed since my first post when it was just Ewan and me in our household. Now our little unit feels full with Sylvia, Zinc (our cat) and the memory of our twin boys, Alex and Ian. Lately, I have been enjoying lots of cooking and baking when Sylvia sleeps (or when E soothes her) and I have quite a backlog of posts. So I hope this blog will continue to be a place for sharing more foodie swooning and ranting, although I make no promises as who knows what else life will serve up for me.

On this blog I have almost 400 posts (this is number 397), including 19 chocolate cakes and 11 nut roasts. I have held one blog event (a Neb at Nut Roast) and participated in numerous blog events. I have been inspired in making smoothies, chutneys, breads, fruit salads and curries that I might not have attempted if not for my blog. And when E doesn’t appreciate my cakes, I have others who do (even if, unfortunately, I can’t give my dear readers a piece to taste). So thank you to everyone who reads, enjoys and supports me in my posts. Which brings me back to the birthday cake.

The past two years I have baked novelty cakes for E’s birthday (a vampire and a green giraffe). This year, with a new baby, such a cake seemed beyond my capability. So I settled for an old favourite – the Paragon Chocolate Orange Cake. This cake was still rather ambitious. My memories of making it are of copious amounts of grating and fingers covered with melted chocolate. And a delicious cake.

I first encountered this cake in the Paragon Café in North Carlton when I lived locally. In those days it was a short stroll to a strip of funky cafes where we could eat dinner or just have a cuppa and a slab of cake. This cake was one of my favourites that the Paragon served. I loved the variegated appearance of crumb with grated chocolate mixed through the orange butter cake and more curls of chocolate on top.

I was delighted to find the recipe in a newspaper many years ago and have made this cake on a few occasions but not for some time. The recipe is for a 28cm round cake tin but this is too large for us so I have halved the quantities. Last week I managed to make it in the afternoon with the invaluable help of my mum who grated, did dishes and held Sylvia (but not all at once).

Unfortunately I couldn’t remember exactly what I did last time and so this was not my finest version. I cooked it a bit less than the specified time because it was smaller and it was getting brown on top but it could have been cooked a bit more. There was a little dip in the middle that hinted at it needing a bit more time so I wasn’t so surprised to find it a bit too moist in the middle when we cut it. I also put the grated chocolate on when it came out of the oven and it melted very quickly (see photo) rather than just getting warm and having little chocolate curls sitting on top of it. So I waited an hour or two and then grated more chocolate on because I like the look of the grated chocolate (also photographed).

We went out for dinner (Hellenic Republic review coming up) and had the cake when we got home. The house was filled with wonderful chocolate orange aromas and the cake was pleasingly soft and moist but not at all fudgy. It tasted as good as I remember. E had half a piece and told me it was quite rich. I had thought he would like it because it is a butter cake but I guess it is a butter cake with a lot of chocolate. I was not at all concerned that he wasn’t so keen on it – all the more for me.

Strangely enough, he does not find the mars bar slice too rich. I had promised to make it on his birthday but was too caught up in making the chocolate orange cake to remember. So I made the slice for him on the weekend. I would have preferred the Paragon Chocolate Orange Cake but unfortunately it didn't last that long!

Paragon Chocolate Orange Cake

62g butter
1 cup caster sugar
zest of 2 oranges
2 eggs
½ tsp vanilla essence
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp bicarb soda
1 tsp baking powder
1¾ cup plain flour
250ml orange juice (2 cups – juice of about 2 large oranges)
62g grated dark chocolate
extra ¾ cup (62g?) grated dark chocolate

Cream the butter, sugar and orange zest. Add remaining ingredients (apart from grated chocolate) and mix well. Fold in 62g grated chocolate.

Pour mixture into 20cm round cake tin and bake at 175 C for about 1¼ hours (I only did 55 minutes and it wasn’t enough despite this cake being half the size of the cake in the original recipe). Test cake with a skewer and it is done when skewer comes out cleanly.

Turn cake onto wire rack and cool for 1-2 hours. While it is still warm, place on serving plate and sprinkle with ¾ cup grated chocolate. If chocolate melts immediately, the cake is still too hot. It should soften but not completely melt.

On the Stereo:
The Wonderful World of Nursery Rhymes: Vera Lynn and Kenneth McKellar

Sunday, 26 April 2009

WTSIM ... Retro Parkin

When I worked at the BBC, I remember Vic and Bob of zany Shooting Stars fame having a silly list of things to do. One stuck in my head: if you see Michael Parkinson on a cold day you could say to him, it’s parky Parky. This comes to mind when I see the word parkin. I also think of Yorkshire housewives in floral housecoats and hair in rollers serving up home-made afternoon tea.

While these words bring to mind images of yesteryear, they still have currency today. Parkinson has retired but is still revered, ‘parky’ is still used in the UK to refer to cold weather (I even heard Billy Connolly saying it last night on Journey to the Edge of the World on TV), and parkin is an evocatively named old fashioned treat which continues to be enjoyed today (I was recently given a box of Rennie Macintosh cards with recipes on the back including parkin).

I intended to post this yesterday because, although Wikipedia said it is traditionally made on Bonfire Night in the UK, it seemed an appropriate treat for ANZAC Day. But I just didn't find the time. Last year I posted about the traditional ANZAC biscuits.

So this year I thought I would post about Iced VoVos, an iconic Australian biscuit that was in the news last week because the manufacturer Arnotts threatened legal action against Krispy Kreme's Iced Dough-Vo. I felt a surge of nationalistic pride and was annoyed at this American donut giant using one of our biscuits to sell their products. But then I checked out Arnotts, I found the company is now American-owned. I then bought a packet of the biscuits out of curiosity and found they were not the marshmallow and jam biscuits I had been thinking of. Sigh! The best thing was digging out the wombat teatowel and finding the picture of a wombat eating an iced vovo – (if you don't look too closely)!

More successful was my experience of baking a Rose Elliot recipe for honey parkin a few weeks back. I had another burst of nostalgia while mixing it up. The buttermilk swirled through the molasses was so pretty and reminded me of a book I read as a child in which the main character had a drink called tiger milk which was molasses swirled through milk. It sounded alluringly exotic back then when I had never seen molasses, although now I am not sure I would fancy the taste of the drink.

Even more pleasing and curious was the strange chemistry at work in this cake-cum-slice. The mixture to go in the oven was a pleasing caramel colour that became a golden brown when baked. When it came out of the oven it was strangely devoid of smell. But even after a few hours the heavenly aromas of ginger and honey were wafting up from the parkin. The recipe said that it should be wrapped and stored in a tin for 2-7 days first. So I wrapped it in foil and a teatowel, made another cake to save me from temptation and I waited. When I finally opened it and had a piece, it was quite dry and disappointing. (I wonder if it would have been better if I had kept it in an airtight container for the week when it was wrapped in foil?) Nevertheless I took it out of the foil, cut it into pieces and put it in an airtight container.

After a few more days it was wonderfully sticky and moist with the mellow flavours of ginger and honey. It reminded me a little of the Orkney Ginger Broonie that I made last year. The parkin was more of a slice than cake and was nicer because it was much stickier than my broonie.

I enjoyed slowly eating my way through it. The parkin just got better and better the longer it sat there (umm… about a week). E was not so keen. He said it was ok with a cuppa in the afternoon but would not do for an evening snack (which makes me think of the Scottish saying ‘Wha’s like us? Damned few and they’re all deid.’) My mum and dad both thought it delicious. It felt a little healthier than some of my cakes and had a depth of flavour that I loved.

Jeanne at Cooksister is hosting this month’s Waiter There’s Something in MyRetro Classics (closing date 4 May). I am sending this to her because it is indeed a retro recipe which has been enjoyed for many generations.

Honey Parkin
(from Rose Elliot: The New Vegetarian Cookbook)

75g Barbados sugar (or brown sugar)
100g black treacle or molasses
100g honey
100g butter or margarine
175ml milk
100g plain wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground ginger
100g medium oatmeal

Preheat oven to 180 C. Grease and line a 20cm square cake tin (I used an 18 x 28cm slice tin).

Place sugar, treacle (or molasses), honey and butter (or margarine) in large saucepan and melt gently over low heat. Alternatively, you could place in a large microwave proof bowl and melt in microwave which is what I did. The recipe says to cool this mixture but I didn’t bother. Add milk gradually and stir to mix. Add remaining ingredients ad mi til combined. Pour mixture into prepared tin.

Bake 50-60 minutes or until firm to touch. Turn out of tin and cook on a wire rack. Ideally store in foil and stored in a tin for 2-7 days before eating. It keeps getting better with age.

On the stereo:
Chill with Bach

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Tempting prune cake

I have been told that my gluten free niece was discovered eating a Krispy Kreme donut recently even though she knows they are full of gluten – and she paid for it with a sore tummy later. Poor celiac kid! Is that really the most tempting form of gluten? What about a great sourdough bread, a good chocolate cake or a piece of soft sweet prune cake? Prune Cake, you ask!

Now you might turn up your nose at the idea of prune cake but this Sticky Prune Cake is really one of my favourite recent cakes. I would highly recommend it to my niece if she wanted to break her diet because not only does it taste fantastic but the glaze is just like Krispy Kreme donuts.

I have had this recipe for years and always imagined it would taste a bit like a sticky date cake. A few weeks back I finally made it and found that it was quite different but equally excellent. I expected the topping to be like a syrup but instead it was like a thin icing that cracked when cut. I am no fan of Krispy Kreme donuts but the topping was just like their glaze – only better, of course because it was on top of a moist soft cake studded with pieces of prune.

I am a little wary of recipes with wholemeal flour especially when there is not much in the way of a raising agent. In fact I would have used self-raising wholemeal flour if it had not been infested with weevils. For once in my life I was glad of the weevils because they made sure I followed the recipe to the letter and it was one of the softest cakes I had had for ages (spongy rather than light and airy).

Prunes have such a bad reputation as healthy food for old folk (to keep them regular) but they are so delicious that of course the cake tasted fantastic. E was a fan and so were a few visitors. Yavanna almost said no because she was wary of a cake with prunes in it but was glad she tried it. (She brought Sylvia the snugly hat in the photo.) My sister, Susie, enjoyed it, although she wasn’t sure about the fruit in it but said it was better than a traditional fruit cake. In fact, I would claim that this is a cake to make again and again, to impress visitors and tempt celiacs!

Sticky Prune Cake

125g prunes, pitted
2 eggs
½ cup raw sugar
100ml vegetable oil
100ml buttermilk
1 cup wholemeal plain flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp mixed spice (I think this is like pumpkin spice)
thick yoghurt or cream to serve

¼ cup raw sugar
1 tbsp buttermilk
a few drops of vanilla essence

Preheat oven to 180 C. Grease and line a 23cm round cake tin. I would advise using a springform tin if possible.

Place prunes in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 12 minutes or until tender. Drain and chop. (I just did this roughly with scissors.)

Place eggs, sugar and oil into a large bowl and whisk to combine. Stir in prunes and buttermilk. Sift dry ingredients and add to prune mixture (I didn’t sift).

Pour mixture into prepared cake tin and bake for 30-45 minutes until skewer inserted in the middle comes out cleanly.

Place sugar, buttermilk and vanilla essence in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until sugar has dissolved, stirring frequently. (I did this for about 5 minutes but not sure it was long enough.) Prick warm cake all over with a skewer. Spoon topping over cake and cool completely in a pan.

On the Stereo:
Nada: Death in June

Monday, 20 April 2009

Curried Cauli, Spinach and Peanut Soup

As the weather gets colder and the nights get darker, I am making lots of soups. They are so quick to make and so comforting. This recipe evolved from one for Curried Cauliflower Soup in Vegetarian Times. I made it a week or so ago when I hadn’t gone to the supermarket and was inspired by what was left in the fridge.

I also added peanuts as they seem to be flavour of the month – somehow I have ended up with peanut butter, chopped peanuts and whole peanuts in my pantry at the moment. This would not surprise some. I never thought of myself as a peanut butter lover until a primary school friend told me later in life that they always made sure they had peanut butter when I was coming to visit. Peanuts are a plain jane nut in my book - not terribly exciting because they were always on hand when I was a child unlike a lot of the nuts I cook with these days. But they add a comforting richness to this soup.

We ate this soup for dinner with pasties my mum had made which were meltingly delicious. E gave the soup the thumbs up. I was only sorry that our meagre rations meant there were no leftovers for the next night.

Curried Cauliflower, Spinach and Peanut Soup
(Adapted from Vegetarian Times Jan 2009)
Serves 2

1 tsp canola oil
½ onion, chopped
1 tsp garlic flakes
½ cauliflower, chopped
1 apple, peeled and chopped
1 heaped tsp curry powder (I used Keens)
1 pinch cinnamon
2 cups water
1 tsp vegetable stock powder
1 tbsp peanut butter
2 tbsp finely chopped peanuts
75g baby spinach
Extra chopped peanuts to serve

Fry onion in oil in a large saucepan for 3-5 minutes until translucent. Add garlic, cauliflower, apple, curry powder, cinnamon, water, stock powder, peanut butter and peanuts. Bring to the boil and simmer 20 minutes. Remove from heat and add spinach. Blend with hand held blender and serve warm with chopped peanuts as a garnish.

On the stereo:
Reprise: 1990-1999 - Vangelis

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Easter Nut Roast and Feasting

We went down to Geelong to have Easter Sunday lunch with my family. My mum made a roast dinner so I took along a nut roast. Initially I thought I would make a tried and trusted recipe but then came across a recipe for a Crunchy Nut Roast on a website called Are you on a Budget? It interested me because it had cornflakes, wheat flakes or weetbix in it. I had a few mini packets of weetbix so I was curious to try it.

The nut roast was quite easy to put together. The name led me to believe that there would be some crunch in nut roast. I don’t eat weetbix often these days but had them in hospital recently and when I poured juice on them, I remembered how quickly they soften to mush. It was no different in this nut roast which was very soft and cereally. No crunch! There was also a lack of seasoning in the recipe. I thought maybe this was due to there being so much salt in weetbix but it could have done with some extra seasoning (which I have included in the recipe below). I got away with this given the flavoursome sides served with the nut roast.

We managed to arrive just as dinner was about to be served so my mum heated the nut roast in the microwave. I was a bit distracted with feeding Sylvia so I wasn’t overly observant with the food served, nor did I remember to photograph more of it. I hope my memory is correct. I think a few of my family had a little of the nut roast. There were so many side vegetables (as well as some roast meat) that it went a long way. I had nut roast, chutney, roast potatoes, roast pumpkin, roast parsnip, peas, cauliflower cheese, sautéed zucchini and eggplant. Happily we were able to take home leftovers, which we had that night with apricot chutney, corn and broccoli.

I also took down some mars bar slice (in lieu of easter eggs) and date chocolate and walnut loaf (a version of Frances’ loaf). There was a tyranny of choice in desserts. Not only was there bowls of easter eggs on the side board but there were also apple pie, pavlova, brownies, nanimo bars, and a wonderful gluten free apricot and cranberry cake. I went home with a swag of leftovers but forgot to take some of my mum’s hot cross buns – luckily she brought me up some a few days later. As you can see, I managed much feasting despite only eating one Easter egg this year.

Cereal Nut Roast
(Adapted from Crunchy Nut Loaf Recipe)
Serves 4-6

1 tbsp oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cups of cornflakes, wheat flakes or crushed Weetbix (6 bricks or 90g of Weetbix)
1 medium carrot, grated
¾ cup ground almonds
½ cup cottage cheese
3 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs

Pre heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Fry onion, celery and garlic in oil for 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and mix in remaining ingredients. Check seasoning and add salt and pepper as required. Grease and line a loaf tin (I used my 13 x 22cm silicone loaf tin which doesn’t need any greasing or lining). Spoon into tin and bake for 40 – 70 minutes (it took me 70 minutes but the recipe suggests 40) or til firm and golden.

On the stereo:
Dark Black Embers: Current 93

Friday, 17 April 2009

Tupperware, Arran and Tomato Soup

The only time I went to a Tupperware party was when I was about 20 years old. My mother advised me not to buy anything because you could always buy the same thing cheaper elsewhere. I do own a few choice pieces of Tupperware today but I do appreciate my mum’s wisdom. Everyone at the party was given a present of a square of rubber with which to open difficult jar lids! I promptly lost mine but since then have often used my washing-up rubber gloves to open recalcitrant lids.

I tell you this because I have had some lids lately that were out to defeat me (and E). One was on a new jar of coffee granules. The design of the lid seemed to be a triumph of style over substance. After a lot of effort, I managed to get it off with the help of my rubber gloves. Upon the lid loosening, the coffee jar flew out of my hands and hit one of our coffee mugs which ricocheted against the oven and the handle broke. Now that is strong coffee!

The mug in question (and in the photo) is a souvenir from the Isle of Arran. We bought it on holiday to the island off the south west coast of Scotland many years ago when we were living in Edinburgh. It was a trip we have always remembered fondly. We were there during the Arran Folk Festival and caught a bus to a gig – on the trip home we remember a lot of local kids singing folk songs. We hired bikes to ride to a stone circle and were amazed that the bike hire place didn’t ask for any contact details from us. We spoke to our B&B owner the following day when he was laughing at the idea of a car alarm and he replied that it was an island and no one would get far if they stole a car or bike. It seemed a place of wonderful innocence as well as castles, excellent veg fry-ups for breakfast, goat skulls on fences, and seals. So we were both sad to lose a little reminder of the holiday.

The other recent experience of using my rubber gloves to remove a difficult lid was when making a tomato lentil soup. I was inspired (as always) by Holler and Lisa’s No Croutons Required Event. The theme this month is Tomato. After unsuccessfully seeking an interesting tomato soup recipe, I created one from what I had in my fridge and pantry. I added a generous amount of smoked paprika which seemed a little strong. I decided that maple syrup would tame it nicely at the same time as complementing it with the smoky sweetness.

There are times I use maple syrup a lot and other times that the bottle lingers. Obviously it hasn’t been used much lately because the lid was stuck in place with crystallised syrup. Once again the trusty rubber gloves helped to loosen the lid – not before I had despaired of ever opening the bottle again. I was glad I did and have been using maple syrup a bit more lately.

The soup was a great success. It didn't take much longer than 30 minutes to prepare. E pronounced it to be a ‘smashing soup’. It was smoky with a touch of sweetness. The tomato was the main vegetable but, with lentils and a few other vegetables, the soup was hearty enough to be a substantial and satisfying meal served with a slice of bread.

However, not only did Holler request that we make a tomato soup but also that we devise a menu to celebrate her birthday. The menu for me is obvious. I would serve smaller bowls of the tomato lentil soup, followed by nut roast and chocolate cake (both of which I have posted lately). I am sure Holler would happily partake in such a comfort food menu.

Tomato Lentil Soup
Serves 5-6

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cups (about ⅛) cabbage, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 x 400g tins of diced tomatoes
3 x tins of water
1½ cups dried red lentils
½ cup port (or red wine)
4 tsp vegetarian chicken-flavour stock powder
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cumin
pinch of cayenne pepper

To serve:
125g baby spinach, chopped
4 tbsp parmesan cheese
black pepper

Heat oil in stockpot. Fry onion, cabbage, carrot and garlic for about 10-15 minutes or til soft. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes or until lentils are soft. Turn off heat and stir in spinach. Serve topped with a spoonful of parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper.

On the stereo:
Son of Evil Reindeer: Reindeer Selection

Monday, 13 April 2009

Wholemeal Chocolate Cake

I had good intentions of posting this yesterday as it seemed just right for an Easter post. I didn’t manage it but wondered if I could do an Easter post today. This reminded me of one of our high school religion teachers – the one that everone knew had a hairy chest – trying to convince us that Jesus rose from the dead on the Monday. Well the Church said he died on Good Friday and rose on the third day so this made sense to her. However, try telling this to a classroom full of Catholic schoolgirls who had been celebrating Jesus rising from the dead on Easter Sunday every year of their lives.

When I told E this story, he said he would have explained it due to the time difference (ie it is Monday in Australia when it is Sunday in Israel). Looking back with a bit more wisdom than I had as a teenager, it makes me think we should have learnt that what was patently obvious to us was not necessarily part of everyone’s culture. The young can be so egocentric.

Just as we thought everyone knew about Easter Sunday, we thought everyone ate chocolate eggs to celebrate. I eat a lot less Easter eggs, these days, mostly because I think they are overpriced inferior chocolate. This doesn’t mean that Easter is not an excellent excuse for chocolate.

I haven’t baked a lot of chocolate goodies lately but suddenly fancied a wholesome chocolate cake. I was tempted by the Vegan Chocolate Spice Cake that I found in my blog index but then found a wholemeal chocolate cake in my notebook which I had enjoyed previously. I had all the ingredients in the house except the cream cheese for the frosting.

It made me laugh to see the recipe with my notes about needing more flour. I copied the recipe from a magazine soon after I moved into my first house. This was before I had discovered the vast array of chocolate cake recipes in this world. Back then, such a liquid batter seemed wrong because it was it was so unlike the buttercake batters I was used to. I now am unfazed by a very runny cake batter and it made for a fudgy and moist cake.

I was very pleased with this cake. The day after I made it I bought cream cheese because the frosting is one of my favourites. It is not very sweet and retains a little tartness of the cream cheese. It is worth making it but I enjoyed the cake without frosting when fresh. And because I thought it was a good Easter cake I photographed it with one of Sylvia’s bunny rabbits. If I was trying to impress I would like to serve it with edible glitter scattered over the frosting and mini Easter eggs dotted around the edge of the top. As we just ate it at home, I didn’t do fancy decorations but maybe will try to another year.

Wholemeal Chocolate Cake

⅔ cup cocoa
½ cup hot water
125g butter
1 cup raw sugar
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 tsp white vinegar
1½ cup wholemeal flour*

Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting:
125g cream cheese, softened
½ cup icing sugar (confectioners sugar)
1 tbsp cocoa

Dissolve cocoa in hot water in a small bowl or coffee cup. Cool to room temperature.

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time. Gradually add cocoa mixture. Fold in milk, vinegar and flour in two batches. The batter will be very runny.

Pour batter into greased and lined 20cm round cake tin. Bake in moderate oven (180 C) for 60-80 minutes (it took me 70 mins). Stand 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Ice with frosting when cool.

To make frosting: beat the cream cheese til light and fluffy. Add icing sugar and cocoa.

*2013 NOTE: I was asked about the raising agent.   I gather this is wholemeal self raising flour but I have written here what I wrote in my notebook - apologies but this seems to be a mistake on my behalf!

On the Stereo:
Repeat: the best of, Vol II – Jethro Tull

Saturday, 11 April 2009

A Nutroast Tribute

It was some weeks into Autumn this year before we looked at each other and realised Summer had ended, before it seemed the threat of bushfires was well and truly over, before I started to appreciate the excellent apples that had come into season.

Daylight savings ended last weekend and the nights are suddenly much darker. Zinc heads out much earlier now but isn’t so interested in spending long in the outdoors in the cooler evenings. It is perfect weather to light the oven and cook food to warm the belly. For me, one of the most comforting meals is a roast dinner.

Unfortunately, like the seasons, some bloggers come and go. It had been a long time between roast dinners and so I decided to make a nutroast. I remembered a fine nutroast made by LisaRene of Little Bits blog last year when I held my Neb at Nutroast Event. When I looked up the link, I was sad to see that LisaRene’s blog had ceased to exist. All her wonderful recipes had disappeared into the ether. (Please come back LisaRene.)

All that I had of her nutroast was the description of the Pistachio, Cashew and Spinach Nutroast in the roundup. So I was forced to attempt to recreate a nut roast that I had never tasted. She didn’t eat eggs but was a cheese fiend so my nut roast was egg free and cheesy to keep her spirit alive in the recipe. It was a good excuse to finally use up some pistachio nuts my mum had given me. Tofu and spinach were also included with a nod to LisaRene. I was going to add millet flakes but the mixture seemed to hold together well enough without them.

The resulting nutroast was delicious and flavoursome. It was a little on the crumbly side. Not the sort you could slice up thinly for sandwiches like my Christmas nutloaf. It was quite soft and moist, a it like a pate. We ate it with roast potatoes and pumpkin, peas and – because I didn’t quite have enough energy and time to make a sauce – I used some carrot miso soup as a sauce, which worked fantastically. It was a wonderful dinner. Good for the soul! Thanks LisaRene!

Tofu and Spinach Nutroast
Serves 4 – 6

⅓ cup pistachios
⅔ cup unsalted roasted cashews
⅓ cup smoked almonds
1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
6 button mushrooms, finely chopped
150g baby spinach, finely chopped
250g firm tofu, crumbled
½ tsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
100g gouda cheese, grated
black pepper

Grind nuts together in food processor.

Fry onion and garlic for about 3 minutes over low heat.

Place nuts, onion mixture and remaining ingredients together in mixing bowl and mix to combine.

Press mixture into greased and lined loaf tin (mine is 13 x 22cm). Bake at 200 C for about 45 minutes. It will still feel a little soft to touch when cooked but you can leave it in longer to become more crisp on the outside (or turn out onto ovenproof serving dish and return to oven for even crispier edges).

On the stereo:
Adagio Mahler

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Carrot Miso Soup

There is nothing like a kitchen disaster to make me appreciate it when a soup works. I chanced upon one of my older Vegetarian Times magazines (January 2009) and was inspired by some of the recipes.

The first recipe I attempted was a Tomato Quinoa Soup. It seemed a great way to use up some of the quinoa lingering in the pantry til I discovered it was infested and I had to throw it out. (A word of advice: don’t ever attempt to empty a cup of quinoa into the bin while holding a small baby – if you miss the bin, the grains roll everywhere!)

While Sylvia slept, I found myself cleaning out the shelf in the pantry containing all the bags of grains. A few grains had to be thrown out and a few had to go in the freezer to discourage any wayward weevils. The resulting soup had brown rice and the remainder of a bag of millet grains and reminded me of last year's Four Grain Tomato Soup – possibly because it was so stodgy. I didn’t even bother to take any photos of it. But I did take a photo of my grains shelf - this is the photo after it was cleaned up so you can imagine it was pretty bad before I cleaned it.

However, a few days later I tried another soup from the same magazine. The Carrot Miso Soup was unusual but delicious. It interested me because, although I am not keen on the idea of carrot soups, I was attracted to the interesting Asian ingredients.

I made some changes. I added an apple because it was there and some tofu to increase the protein. Next time I might be inclined to reduce the agave because I found myself needing to add a bit of tamari to reduce the sweetness. Unfortunately I forgot to add the rice nor could I find a leek in the supermarket. The recipe also called for wasabi peas as a garnish but I chose to add a little chilli to the soup and garnish with arame because I have always thought carrot and seaweed go together well.

I was delighted with the result. I didn’t think that the kombu gave a strong flavour but the miso, rice vinegar and tamari imparted an ever so slightly sour taste. It still as also on the sweet side but very tasty. And I loved the additional texture of the thin strands of arame mixed through it. Not only delicious, but it is also a healthy, low-fat soup. (I am a bit confused if white miso is gluten free - I think so and have labelled it gluten free but please let me know if it isn't.)

I don’t think it was E’s idea of a meal and I ate most of it for lunch. But we did have some as sauce over a nutroast, which we both enjoyed. It is good to feel I am getting some value for my VT subscription - makes me think I should find some other archive copies of the magazine and use more recipes.

Carrot Miso Soup
(adapted from Vegetarian Times, January 2009)
serves 4-5 for lunch or starter

1 tbsp canola oil
1 medium leek (I used 1 red onion), chopped
1 large clove garlic, chopped
1 tbsp rice vinegar
750g carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
350g firm tofu
1 apple, peeled and chopped (optional)
3 tbsp jasmine rice (I forgot)
1 piece of kombu (4 x 2 inch)
2 tbsp white miso
2 tsp agave nectar (or less)
½ tsp chilli paste
1 tbsp tamari (or less)
Arame, to serve

Fry the leek (or onion) and garlic in oil in a large saucepan for 5-10 minutes until soft. Deglaze pan with rice vinegar. Add carrots, tofu, apple, rice and kombu. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 30 minutes or until carrots soft. Remove kombu. Use a handheld blender to puree til smooth (this took me a little longer then usual to blend the tofu). Place a ladle of soup in a small bowl and mix in miso til smooth. Add to soup. Add agave, chilli paste and tamari to taste. Stir well. Serve warm with a spoonful of arame on the soup.

On the stereo:
Singles: New Order

Monday, 6 April 2009

Pooh Bear Honey Slice

Recently I have been seeking an elusive memory of a slice made of rice bubbles soaked in honey. Was it made by the mother of a childhood friend, or bought from a cake stall or even made in a student household.? I can’t remember but it is unlikely I had it in a café. It is not an impressive sort of slice. It was on the tip of my tongue, literally.

Last year I bought a Country Women’s Association (CWA), Victoria cookbook called The A to Z of cooked and uncooked slices. I like the homely feel of the cookbook which has no pictures and includes quaintly-named slices like Joan Collin’s Slice, Kiddie’s Delight and Churchill Squares but I would like an index. The recipes are obviously family favourites of CWA members and are full of great ideas, if not terribly healthy. I also love the home hints at the bottom of each page because when I was young I always loved the home hints column in the Australian Women’s Weekly.

My first attempt at a honey bubble slice was a dismal failure. I found a recipe that looked interesting. We don’t habitually have rice bubbles in our house so I bought a smaller organic packet of rice puffs which was more expensive and tasted horribly stale. Then I mixed it with honey and peanut butter and dried fruit and it tasted awful. I was going to throw it out but E bravely made his way through a lot of it. I think he liked it.

I lost interest until I surrendered and bought a box of regular rice bubbles for the Mars Bar Slice. Then I had to find ways to use the rest of the packet. So I thought I would try again at this honeyed memory. I returned to the CWA cookbook and found a slice with the cute name of Pooh Bear Honey Slice. It had ¾ cup of honey. This seemed a lot but I was game.

It was an easy melt and mix slice, like the mars bar slice. The recipe called for wheat bix but rice bubbles were a fine substitution. The result was a tooth achingly sweet and sticky, full of the intense honey flavour that I was seeking. It is not something that you can eat too much of but is pleasing in small pieces. I even wonder if I could put a little less honey next time.

The name, Pooh Bear Honey Slice, would appeal to literature’s greatest lover of honey. Yes, the small bear who said, isn’t it funny how a bear loves honey, buzz buzz buzz I wonder why he does. When I was young we didn’t have DVDs but we did have stories on vinyl records. My best friend had Pooh Bear stories on vinyl and I remember listening to over and over (and trying not to bounce around the room so vigorously that we scratched the record). By sheer coincidence on the day I made the slice, Sylvia was wearing her Pooh Bear suit from her Scottish grandparents. So you will understand that I felt compelled to take some photos of her suit and her toys for this post.

Pooh Bear Honey Slice
(From CWA The A to Z of cooked and uncooked slices cookbook)

125g butter
¾ cup honey
¼ cup desiccated coconut
¼ cup finely chopped peanuts
4½ cups rice bubbles

Melt butter and honey in a large saucepan and simmer for 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Spread into a slice tray (18 x 28cm). Set in the fridge for a few hours and then cut and serve at room temperature. Mine lasted a week in an airtight container out of the fridge and probably would have lasted longer.

On the stereo:
The BBC Sessions: Belle and Sebastian

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Marvellous Mars Bar Slice

After a few weeks at home following Sylvia’s birth, it was a shock to E to get back to work. She is sleeping better but he still has some disruptions to his sleep. So at the end of that first week I asked what he would like me to bake next. I felt he needed a little indulgence. He asked for chocolate rice krispy slice. Immediately I thought of mars bar slice.

I love chocolate but am happy to say that I consume less chocolate bars than I once did. (In my heyday of travelling I loved trying Snickers bars in every country – just for research, you understand!) They are just an occasional treat now. I confess to finding Mars Bars very moreish unlike some people who say they are too sweet or too filling. I was amazed to find that these bars were originally from the UK and are not found in America. Apparently they are similar to America’s Milky Way bars which are different to the UK/Australian Milky Way. How confusing. If you don’t know Mars Bars, just imagine a layer of nougat, a layer of caramel all covered in milk chocolate!

I shouldn’t be so surprised because E and I still come across different terminology from Scotland and Australia. In Scotland I loved hearing people referring to babies as the wee bairn because it seemed so uniquely Scottish! I recently found from E that he had never come across people calling a baby, ‘bubs’, which is quite common in Australia.

When E asked for rice krispy slice I knew what he meant. His rice krispies from the UK are what we know in Australia as rice bubbles. (Yes the ones that go snap crackle and pop!) I don't eat them now but often had them for breakfast as a child when no one was concerned about how many vitamins and minerals they contained! The slice I found in my Australian Women’s Weekly Cakes and Slices Cookbook was called Choc Top Crunchy Slice but it seems too vague to identify it. I have always called it Mars Bar Slice.

E held Sylvia to stop her crying while I cooked. It is hardly baking – just a bit of melting and mixing. It is the sort of slice that needs to set in the fridge but it tasted soooooo good warm with melty chocolate on top that we had eaten our fair share before it even reached the fridge. Once it had set, I kept it out of the fridge because it was so hard when really cold and we both prefer it softer.

E was upset when it was finished rather quickly. (Yes, I ate more than he did but he didn’t have the slice tempting him at home all day!) He kept telling me how much he loved it. I have said I will make some for his birthday. I highly recommend it despite it being full of processed food. But be warned that it is dangerously delicious and hard to resist.

I am sending this to Poornima at Tasty Treats for her For the Love of Chocolate event.

Mars Bar Slice
(from Australian Women’s Weekly Cakes and Slices Cookbook)

3 x 60g mars bars, chopped
90g butter, chopped
3 cups rice bubbles
250g milk chocolate, chopped
30g butter, chopped

Melt butter and mars bars in large saucepan over low heat. Continue to stir over low heat till mixture is smooth. Remove from heat. Add rice bubbles and mix. Spread into small slice tin (18 x 28 cm).

Melt chocolate and butter over low heat or in microwave. Spread chocolate over rice bubble mixture. Cool and refridgerate a few hours till chocolate set. Use sharp knife to cut into squares. Serve at room temperature.

On the stereo:
Songs for the young at heart: Various Artists