Sunday, 29 April 2012

Ghost cake, birthdays and wildlife

Let me tell you a terrible secret.  This year I was tired and felt a bit low on ideas for E's birthday.  I thought maybe I wouldn't do one of the novelty cakes that I love making.  Then I found one that was easy to make and that he just loved.  This ghost birthday cake demands very little in the way of cutting shapes, decoration or even colouring the icing.  Yet it is still impressive and fun.  It is so easy I am considering making it every year for him from now on.  (Even if the eggshell eyes are a little odd!)

E now shares his birthday with my blog.  It is 5 years old today.  He got lots of wonderful presents, including chocolates, a graphic novel of Hamlet, a diamond jubilee tea towel, a record player and a gomnie in the garden (the gomnie is the one with the red hat that Sylvia spent a lot of time telling her dad about before his birthday!!!).  My blog gets a piece of doggerel.  Hey!  It's my blog and I will write bad poetry if I want to!  After all birthday are meant to be a little self indulgent:

Happy birthday GGG
It's my blogiversary
I've been blogging for 5 years
About breakfast, lunch and tea.

In the spirit of self-indulgence, I will pause here to reflect briefly on how much I love blogging!  Since that first post five years ago, I have learnt so much, met lots of interesting people and cooked lots of yummy food.  I do a regular round up at the end of each year so I will until then for the naval gazing and just say a simple thanks to you who support me and read my posts.  Regular readers might have noticed that I am posting a bit less often right now.  Life is busy and demanding but over the years I have noticed my blogging energy wax and wane.  If I can be sure of one thing, it is that life will keep changing, just as this blog does.

We had a celebration lunch in Geelong with my family.  Upon arriving, my mum served treacle scones especially for E.  At the birthday boy's request, I made haggis for Haggis Nachos and my mum did a Mexican feast of tacos, nachos, three different chilli con carnes, guacamole, and lots of other side dishes.

At dessert time, E blew out candles on his ghost cake and my brother in-law John who has a birthday around the same time blew out candles on the sponge layer cake that my sister Fran made for him.  We also indulged in some of my mum's pavlova (half peppermint crisp topping and half strawberries and passionfruit) and a gf chocolate caramel slice.

We had planned to go a Jirrahlinga Koala Wildlife Sanctuary before the birthday lunch.  Life being hectic and disorganised, we ended up going after lunch.  Most of the wombats, E's favourite animals,  were sound asleep.  He loves them because they are so sleepy (and snuggly), so it didn't bother him at all.  Though he did enjoy watching one that was snuffling about in its food scraps.

More alert were the koalas.  In fact, I don't think I have ever seen such active koalas before.  Most of my sightings of koalas have been curled up in a furry ball up a tree (like these).  Even on a couple of occasions at wildlife parks (including Jirrahlinga) when I have come across a zookeeper with one in their arms, they have been more snuggly than lively.  On this trip they were sitting up in the trees grabbing at pawfuls of leaves and stuffing them in their mouths, scratching and stretching and looking about.  We decided that later in the day was a good time to visit.  It was definitely a quiet time of day to be there.

We had a lovely time with some curious kangaroos.  My dad chatted to the cockatoos.  E and Sylvia went off in search of foxes.  Quin avoided the snakes and did silly dances with Maddy.  Ella mused about how she might be a zookeeper when she grew up.  Then just as we were about to leave, a zookeeper came along with a little joey in a pouch.  The mother kangaroo had died and so the staff were looking after it.  It was a sweet wee thing that didn't mind us patting it.  A great way to end the visit.  E and Sylvia and I then drove home for some Haggis Pizza and so-so DVD, Gnomeo and Juliet.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
One year ago: Guitar Birthday Cake
Two years ago: Viking cat cake with a butterscotch secret
Three years ago: Happy Birthday to E and GGGiraffe (choc orange cake)
Four years ago: Green Gourmet Giraffe Birthday Cake
Five years ago: A very vampire birthday 

How to Make a Ghost Birthday Cake
(Adapted from the Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book)

You will need:
  • 1 plain cake (I used this butterless butter cake recipe) baked in a rectangle slice tray (mine is 18 x 28cm)
  • 1 batch of buttercream icing (see notes below*)
  • 2 clean half egg shells (I washed the egg shells after putting egg in the cake)
  • 2 jaffas (or round red lollies)
  • about a dozen green smarties (or other small green lollies)

Bake the cake the night before, if possible.  When ready to decorate the cake, find an appropriate board to present the cake on.  I covered a baking tray with foil and later remembered that it might be better to use my cake tin with a cover for transporting it in the car but by then it was too late.

Now cut rounded corners off the cake to make a round dome shape at the top end of the cake.  Try to do this in one cut because you then position the corners at the side of the cake to make the arms of the ghost that are held up to scare you.  Whoooooooo!

*Buttercream frosting notes: The book called for white and fluffy royal icing but I avoid uncooked egg whites.  Instead I made buttercream frosting by beating 125g of Nuttalex margarine (to have it whiter than butter) until fluffy and then beating in 1 and 1/2 cups of icing sugar.  It was only just enough and I could have done with slightly more.

Spread buttercream frosting over the top and sides of the cake.  Use knife to make peaks in the icing, including peaks to indicate hair.

Now decorate with lollies.  Place the egg shells where the eyes will be.  Spoon a dot of buttercream frosting in each egg shell and place a jaffa on it to be the eyeball.  Position the green lollies into a crooked line to make a spooky smile.  The book advised covering the plate or board with pink coloured coconut to surround the ghost but I didn't have time. I don't think it needed the coconut, though it might have been nice.  E was very pleased with it.  So is GGG! 

On the stereo:
It: Pulp

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Preston farmers market

We went to Preston Farmers Market for the second time today.  Our previous visit was in September.  Back then it was a grey day and we were all feeling poorly.  Today the sun shone, we sampled food, filled our bag with vegetables and watched Sylvia kick off her shoes and play in the sandpit.

It is a smaller local affair than some of the farmers markets I have visited.  This is not a bad thing.  It doesn't take ages to walk among all the stalls but there is plenty of food on offer.  The market is held in a primary school, which adds to the feeling of it being in the midst of its community.  This is a relaxing place to shop, with plenty of space to sit by the children's playgrounds.  In September there was a petting zoo for kids to see all the little animals.  That was gone today but there were pony rides and face painting.

The stalls today were slightly different from the ones in September.  Most noticeable was the appearance of the apple stall.  Who could resist the beautiful display of shiny red apples in barrels!  One of the pleasures of this time of year is a crisp Fuji apple.  I walked away with a bag of them.

Another seasonal pleasure is pumpkins.  Actually I eat them all year round as they are always available.  But autumn is the traditional season for pumpkins so it feels right to eat them at this time of year.  I didn't buy any of the little pumpkin nuggets but they are so cute.

Unlike most farmers markets I have visited, this one only had one vegetable stall.  Yet it is full of variety, colour and interest.  Last visit I purchased carrots in hues of orange, yellow and purple.  I bought another colourful bunch today.  I also purchased leeks, potatoes, golden beetroot and corn from the vegetable man.

The rest of the market has stalls selling pizza, chai and spices, jam, tarts, honey, bread, soap, pet food treats, and Turkish savouries.  We grabbed a casual lunch while Sylvia played.  I bought a small vegetable tart for her that I ended up eating.  We shared a corn on the cob (not cheap at $4.50) and she had a seeded bread roll.  E got a sausage from the Sausologist and was very impressed.  Last time there were stalls selling Bretzels and little cakes but they were absent today.

The band was also absent today - or were we just there at a different time?  In September a stall was selling blood oranges.  Today there was one selling fat juicy strawberries.  Sylvia had a lovely time sampling strawberries and bread. 

In my notes from September, I jotted down that Sylvia was grizzly because she was ill and that I went home from the market to have a sleep because I was so tired.  Today was a different trip altogether.  Happier.  Sunnier.  We had plenty of energy left after the market.  After gathering our wares, we headed out to Eltham ... But that is another story!

Preston Farmers Market
Bell Primary School
Corner Scotia Street Oakover Road, Preston
9am - 1pm, 4th Saturday of every month
http://www.inseasonmarkets.com.au/market/marketpage/preston-farmers-market

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

WSC Chocolate Nut Roast with Chocolate Gravy

Yes you read the title correctly!  Chocolate for dinner!  Chocolate in a savoury nut roast.  Chocolate in a gravy!  You see, recently I have been giving some thought to combining Chocolate and Cheese.  Blame Choclette and her We Should Cocoa challenge!  I shunned the idea of a regular chocolate cheesecake and let my mind spin with some whacky whimsy.  Finally I made an interesting Mexican-style chocolate nut roast with a chocolate and red wine gravy.  It was a crazy idea but it worked.

It took some time to arrive at the nut roast, even though I had originally considered it for February's We Should Cocoa Challenge.  I had put white chocolate in a salad for the savoury chocolate challenge.  At first I thought I would bake a chocolate muffins with goats cheese and plum but the plums died and the moment passed.  We had enough cake about.  I turned to savoury ideas.  I considered a chocolate lentil spag bol or a chocolate lentil cobbler with cheese dumplings or even a quesadilla with tofu, chocolate sauce and cheese (like these).

In fact when I searched for chocolate and cheese recipes online, I found some inspiring recipes:
I might have made one of these recipes had I the time to go grocery shopping.  Instead at the eleventh hour,  I found myself with leftover haggis, cooked rice and a bag of ground almonds.  Nut roast seemed the easy option.  And it had to be Mexican.

You see, combining chocolate and cheese in a savoury recipe is quite a challenge.  Cheese is yellow, bright and cheerful.  Chocolate is dark, brooding and melancholy.  Both are strong flavours.  They find it hard to get along without one dominating.  Yet they work well as opposing forces to provide contrast in a meal.  The Mexicans seem to have worked this out with their moles and chilli non carnes topped with cheese.  They did discover chocolate after all, so it stands to reason they know what to do with it!

Nut roasts are easy for me. A regular comfort food.  Getting the mix of savoury flavours and chocolate right is more of a challenge. Take away the sugar and chocolate has a bitter flavour.  It can easily overwhelm a meal if not balanced carefully with other flavours.  I used this mole recipe for some inspiration.  I found it odd that the nut roast actually smelt of chocolate but the taste and texture was more cheesy.  The haggis provided a substantial - even a "meaty" - base and the corn gave some welcome sweet contrast.  The nut roast was tasty but not as spicy as I expected - next time I might add more spices.

Likewise I am comfortable with making gravy from scratch but not with adding chocolate.  I stumbled upon the idea of adding red wine which seemed just right.  A wine reduction meant I needed very little flour to thicken it and the gravy had a robust flavour to complement the chocolate.  It was a very rich gravy but I loved how it looked like melted chocolate.  It tasted so good that I was tempted to just stand at the stove and eat it by the spoonful before I even served dinner!

I served the nut roast and gravy with roasted pumpkin and steamed brussels sprouts.  It was a great combination.  The sweetness of the pumpkin was delicious with the intense chocolate flavours.  E seemed to enjoy it but later told me it was too intense and chocolatey.  I guessed that this might be because he didn't have as many vegetables on his plate.

Lastly a note about making this dinner.  It was done while I tried to get Sylvia to eat her dinner, so there were frequent distractions and I probably took longer than needed.  It wasn't helped by the oven going off when I started cooking the nut roast so my cooking time is probably not quite reliable (especially as my oven isn't terribly powerful).  Finally, I have finished writing up this post on a rainy ANZAC Day with Sylvia jumping all over me - she tells me I am a trampoline.  However I can forgive a little girl who not only demands I buy her brussels sprouts but asks for more when she finishes those I have served her!

Would I do chocolate nut roast for dinner again?  Yes.  As an everyday meal?  Probably not.  I think this would be great as a celebration dish because it is so rich.  It would work well as a dinner party dish because it would surprise and be a talking point. 

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: Chow Mein - revisited on ANZAC Day
This time two years ago: Fruits of Autumn: figs, rhubarb and walnuts
This time three years ago: Tempting prune cake
This time four years ago: ANZAC Day and the Biscuit Police

Haggis and cheese mole nut roast with chocolate and red wine gravy
An original Green Gourmet Giraffe recipe
serves 4-6

1 tsp olive oil
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
kernels of 1 corn cob
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp chilli paste
2 tbsp tomato paste
6 tbsp (90ml) water
20g of dark chocolate (I used Lindt 85% cocoa solids), chopped
half a loaf of vegetarian haggis, crumbled
100g cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup ground almonds
1/4 tsp salt, or to taste

Heat oil in a large frypan and fry celery over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until celery is soft.  Add corn and fry another 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how many distractions you have!  Stir in garlic for about a minutes and then stir in cumin, smoked paprika and cinnamon for another minute or until fragrant.

Gently stir in chilli paste, tomato paste and water.  The mixture should be quite spicy because it loses some of the bite once you add the other ingredients.  Turn off the heat and stir in chocolate until it is melted.  Transfer corn mixture to a mixing bowl and mix in the remaining ingredients.

Spoon into a lined and greased loaf tin (I used a silicone one so I didn't grease or line) and smooth down with the back of a spoon.  Bake at 180 C for between 40 - 60 minutes until dried and slightly browned on top.

Chocolate and Red Wine Gravy

1 red onion, finely chopped
1 knob butter (a scant dessertspoon)
1 tbsp wholemeal plain flour
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 cup red wine
1 cup water
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp stock powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp honey
20g of dark chocolate (I used Lindt 85% cocoa solids), chopped

Cook the onion in melted butter on a frypan for about 20 to 30 minutes over low to medium heat until the onion is soft and wilted with some charred edges.  Scatter the flour, smoked paprika and cinnamon over the onions and cook for a minute or two until it is quite dry and brown.

Add red wine, water, Worcestershire sauce, stock powder, salt and honey.  Check taste and adjust flavours as necessary (remember you will add some bitter chocolate so it needs to be just slightly too sweet and salty).  Bring to the boil and gently simmer for about 20 minutes or until it is syrupy.

Mix in chocolate until melted.  Add a little extra water if it gets too thick.  I found I needed to do this after leaving to sit for a while before serving.  Serve hot over nut roast.

On the Stereo:
Music for Fassbinder Films: Peer Raben

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Basics - recipes, cake tins and conversions

I have created this page of notes to collect some of the basic information that I spend too much time looking up on my blog or the web.  I hope it might help others too.  It is work-in-progress that I will update from time to time.  I have broken it up into three sections - Basic Recipes, Cake Tin Sizes, and Conversions.

Basic Recipes

Many of the recipes are ones that can be bought but are much nicer if I have the time to make them from scratch.  This list comprises both recipes I go to often or ones I want to return to if searching for such a recipe.  An asterisk (*) indicates recipes from my blog. There are four sections: Dinner, Dessert, Baking, and Veg*n substitutes .

Dinner

Dessert
I don't make lots of dessert so there's not much in this section but I always need to look up packet custard - 2 tbsp custard powder, 1 tbsp sugar and 1 cup milk.  Maybe down the track I might add pastry.

Baking

Veg*n Substitutes

Cake tin sizes

When I was growing up, a cake tin was always round and 20cm in diameter.  Now recipes seem to call for ones in all shapes and sizes.  I spent a lot of time measuring and calculating tine to make sure recipes fit into my tins.  So here is a list of calculations to help me.  An asterisk (*) indicates that I have this sized cake tin.

Round:
To calculate area of a circle: Area = radius squared times pi (approx 3.1415)

28cm (11 inch) round cake tin area equals 616cm
24cm round cake tin area equals 452cm
23cm (9 inch) round cake tin area equals 415cm
22cm round cake tin area equals 380cm*
20cm (8 inch) round cake tin area equals 314cm*
15cm (6 inch) round cake tin equals 177cm*
14cm round cake tin area equals 153cm
10cm round cake tin (or use foil collars) area equals 78.5cm

Square:
23cm (9 inch) square cake tin area equals 529cm
22cm square cake tin area equals 484cm*
20cm (8 inch) square cake tin area equals 400cm*
20cm ring tin area equals 247*
19cm square cake tin area equals 361cm
18cm (7 inch) square cake tin area equals 324cm
15cm (6 inch)  square cake tin area equals 225cm*

Other:
loaf tin 13 x 22 cm area equals 286 cm*
medium loaf tin 20.5 x 10.3cm area equals 211cm*
slice tin: 18 x 28cm area equals 504cm*
swiss roll tin: 31 x 24cm area equals 744cm*

Conversions

If I am not measuring cake tins, I am converting measurements from recipes that use different measuring implements than I am use to.  So here are a few links and conversions I find useful:

  • 1 cup pumpkin puree requires about 300-350g uncooked pumpkin
  • 1 cup mashed banana is about 2 large or 3 small bananas
  • 1 egg equals 1 tbsp chia seeds plus 3 tbsp water
  • 1 x 7g packet of yeast equals 15g fresh yeast equals 2 1/4 tsp dried yeast 
  • substitute honey for sugar - less honey than sugar because sweeter and reduce liquid as well - see this article for more info 
  • kernels of 2 corn cobs is approx 1 cup of corn kernels 
  • to make self raising flour add 2 tsp baking powder to 1 cup plain flour 
  • Susan of Wild Yeast gives advice on converting commercial yeast recipes to sourdough

Good resources:
  • Exclusively Food - an Australian site giving a list of weight to cups measurements.
  • Ingredient Equivalents - comprehensive list converting weight to cups or pieces at about.com - the only problem (for us Aussies) is that it used imperial rather than metric.
  • Veg-World a British site giving a list of cups to weight measurements for specific ingredients.
  • Real Food 4 Real People - conversions tables of cups to weights, and metric to imperial, and oven temperatures.
  • Online conversions - to convert weights from ounces to grams, pounds to kilograms etc or vice versa.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Zucchini Layer Cake plus random thoughts

Life has been hectic lately.  So I am taking a little time in this post to reflect.  I have a Zucchini Cake that I made last month both for St Patrick's Day and my Green Potluck.  It wasn't perfect but it was close enough to be worth trying again. So here are my musings on the cake and some random thoughts.

We had a birthday lunch for my brother Paul and I had green-tinted white chocolate frosting leftover from Sylvia's birthday.  To compensate for the sweetness of the white chocolate, I decided to add cocoa to this zucchini cake recipe.  It was both vegan and gluten free before I added the frosting.  It was nice but not great.

I had really chosen the cake for the potluck, which was vegan.  As I had thought we didn't have any gluten free people coming along, I decided I was not keen on the cake with Orgran GF flour.  (My mum has recently tried White Wings GF flour which she says is even better.  I just wish we could find Dove flour that Katie uses which sounds really interesting).

On my second attempt I altered the recipe again.  I left out the cocoa, add chia seeds, used a few more zucchini and less milk.  Both times the sugar and oil mixture was dryish but become quite wet once the zucchini was added and allowed to sit for a few minutes.  The wheat flour version needed much less milk than the GF version.  In fact, I wish I hadn't added the cautious 2 tablespoons of milk (which was less than the original 1/4 cup) to the second version because it was just too soft.

The soft cake was matched by soft icing.  I was feeling so disorganised in preparing for the potluck that I just threw in as much icing sugar as I could bear without measuring it.  I think more icing sugar would have made it firmer but probably less butter cream cheese would have been advisable as I had too much frosting.  Unfortunately being soft, meant it slouched rather than standing tall and proud.  But it tasted terrific.  Surprisingly better than when paired with cocoa.

My other failure with the frosting was when I tried to dye it green for the pot luck with some cooked and sieved spinach.  It didn't work.  Even with a few drops of food dye the icing was a very pale delicate green.  More experiments needed here.  The icing looked pretty with lime zest but I wish I had remembered to add lime zest and juice to the mix and have left it in the recipe so I remember next time.

But enough of cake.  Here are a few random thoughts I wanted to jot down:
  • One of Sylvia's favourite questions at the moment is "Why don't cars go on the grass?"  I think it is an excellent question.  Like everyone I get annoyed at some of the law but I do sometimes wonder what went wrong that prompted laws to be passed.  Just imagine some of our busy streets without traffic lights!
  • While I am not keen on some laws, I am even less keen on people trying to make up laws to make my life a misery.  Swanston St in Melbourne City has been a mess for years.  Despite the ban on cars it has never been quite pedestrianised and has a very confused identity.  It is even worse with all these super tram stops they are building.  It is like an obstacle course to rise on a bike.  So I was really cross when a Metlink official added salt to the wound by telling me to stop because the tram was slowing down.  Surely there is no new road law that requires bikes to slow down because a tram is slowing down.  I was even more annoyed because I wasn't riding dangerously when he told me to stop - he was just being an officious numpty!
  • Tonight I actually measured what the Australian Women's Weekly calls a lamington tin.  I had always thought a lamington tin was the same as a swiss roll tin. (A swiss roll is similar to a jelly roll but not the same as a jam roly poly).  According to the AWW it is actually the same as what I call a slice tin.  I checked with my ultimate authority - my mum - who made me even less sure because she says lamington tins are deeper.  I will have to do more research, but I am worried that maybe I have misled readers by referring to the wrong tin.  Maybe it is time to try my hand at making lamingtons!

I'd like to write more but it is late and we have a busy weekend ahead.  I am sure you too have read enough so I will finish up by wishing you a good weekend.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: Why Does Food History Matter?
This time two years ago: Honest soup inspired by a Farmers Market
This time three years ago: Curried Cauli, Spinach and Peanut Soup
This time four years ago: NCR Moody Mushroom Stew

Zucchini Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Allrecipes
  • 160g coconut sugar (or other sugar)
  • 105ml vegetable oil (I used canola)
  • 3 tablespoons ground linseeds (flax seeds)
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds
  • 300g zucchini, grated
  • 50g sultanas 
  • 50g dried cranberries
  • 50g chopped pistachios
  • 125g plain flour (I used half white, half wholemeal)
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 and 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsp milk (optional) 
For the cream cheese frosting:
  • 150g cream cheese (I used tofutti cream cheese), at room temperature
  • 75g butter, at room temperature
  • 500g icing sugar
  • Zest of 2 limes, and the juice of half a lime
  • extra lime zest, nuts and dried fruit, to decorate
Heat oven to 160 C.  Grease and line two 20cm round cake tins.

Mix sugar and oil.  It will look rather dry.  Add linseeds, chia seeds and grated zucchini.  Set aside for a few minutes while you prepare remaining ingredients.  The zucchini will release liquids and the mixture will become quite thin.

Stir in remaining ingredients  in order of the list.  The mixture should be a batter that will fall slowly from a wooden spoon.  Add a little milk only if it needs some loosening up.

Spoon into prepared tins and bake for 35 minutes until cakes are springy and a skewer comes out clean.  Cool cakes in tins.

Make cream cheese frosting by beating cream cheese and butter with electric beaters until smooth.  Gradually add in the icing sugar and then the lime zest and juice.  You want to get a consistency that is firm but spreadable.

Turn out one cake onto a serving plate.  Spread with about half the frosting, or as much as you need.  Turn out the second cake, position on top of the frosted cake and spread with remaining frosting.  (I had some frosting leftover.)  Decorate with lime zest, nuts and fruit as desired.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Chocolate Rasbperry Almond Cake amid the chaos

My weekend was full of good food, good fun and some surprises.  I had the pleasure of an unexpected evening swim on Sunday after a day with my family.  Unfortunately not all surprises were so lovely.  On Saturday night as I was heading to bed, I discovered that the cake that had gone in the oven after dinner was still there.

Another vexatious discovery was that Sylvia was fond of picking the first camelia flowers of the year.  Fortunately there are quite a few flowers appearing so she can't keep up!  I enjoyed my Saturday with a visit to Little Deer Tracks (the menu is much changed since last visit and the portobello mushroom burger was not to my liking but most probably would have appealed more if I hadn't slept in and had a late breakfast) and a new television.

Some of the blame for the overcooked cake might rest with the new telly.  When the timer rang, the cake was slightly undercooked so I returned it to the oven for another 5 minutes and set the timer.  I had forgotten that the timer doesn''t ring if just set for a few minutes.  Not good when I was fixated on a new telly that seemed like a miracle after weeks of being unable to watch our favourite channel (the ABC).

The first cake I had made was inspired by Choclette's Raspberry Chocolate Polenta Cake.  I used passionfruit chocolate instead of raspberry chocolate but liked the idea.  I have made a very similar Chocolate Polenta Cake in the past that was too grainy.  This was the case again with the overcooked cake.  We gouged out some of the middle for breakfast.  I hope to return to it some day but when I have found some fine cornmeal.

I had made the cake the previous night when Sylvia was in bed.  But on Sunday morning I decided I couldn't take the cake to the family lunch as intended so I would just have to make another.  With Sylvia!  It was a chaotic morning.  I scanned more recipes while eating chocolate cake for breakfast.  I decided I really wanted a chocolate raspberry cake and it was to be gluten free so everyone could eat it.  Apparently this wasn't everyone's cake of choice.  As we drove to the supermarket, Sylvia was on her toy phone to my mum asking her to make a white sugar cake.

The cake I chose to make was inspired by Lucy's Chocolate Apricot Cake.  I was emboldened by her sense of adventure in substituting apricots for orange in Nigella's Clementine Cake.  I couldn't find a recipe for my vision so I decided to follow Lucy's lead and substitute raspberries.  As you can see, the mixture was very very red.  Sylvia took charge of the food processor, which at least delayed the latest camelia flower being plucked from its branch.

Once the cake was in the oven, we watered the garden, Sylvia picked another flower, we laughed at Zinc sitting on the windowsill in the bedroom looking out at us, then we squeezed the juice of the zested orange to drink and ate the remaining half-frozen raspberries from the packet.  The cake was still quite warm when I wrapped it in a teatowel and we headed off to Geelong for our family lunch.

The lunch was the last with my sister and her family before they headed back to Ireland.  My mum served a wonderful baked eggplant and tomato dish, as well as roast potatoes, salad, and pastisti.  I took down a bag of edamame.  Sylvia adores it and it is such an easy nutritious snack for her.  Dessert was a great spread of pavlova (you can see from the top photo that Sylvia loves this too), mango cheesecake, fruit salad, sponge cake and my chocolate cake.  

The chocolate raspberry almond cake went down well.  It was eaten in small slices with cream because it was very rich.  I found it quite light - almost mousse-like - and more fruity than chocolatey.  It wasn't all eaten at the dinner and I think it was better later in the day when it had settled and was less fragile.  If I would to make it again, I would be tempted to try 5 rather than 6 eggs and some melted chocolate to give it a firmer texture.  But I think my preference would be to find a good sturdy chocolate cake with studs of raspberries through it.  If only I had more time to experiment.

It was a lovely day with the family.  After lunch was a family photo and then E got out his ukelele and jammed with my niece Quin on piano accordion in the garden while Sylvia and Dash played with hoops and Maddy did gymnastics on the grass.

We made a last minute decision to stay in Geelong so that Sylvia and Dash could go for a swim at the local pool together.  This meant we had dinner at my parents' place and got home rather late. It was worth it to see the two cousins swimming together and so gorgeous to watch them giggling at each others jokes.  They loved sharing their own three year old perspectives on the world.  We were sad to see Chris, Fergal and Dash go home.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: Marzipan choc chip cookies
This time two years ago: Butterscotch Bounty from Ricki
This time three years ago: Easter Nut Roast and Feasting
This time four years ago: Family Favourite: Chocolate Pudding

Chocolate raspberry almond cake
Adapted from Kitchen Maid and food.com

250g caster sugar
200g almonds
375g raspberries
50g cocoa
6 eggs
zest of half an orange
icing sugar and cream, to serve

Blend all ingredients in food processor, scraping down the sides a couple of times as necessary.  Pour into greased and lined 22cm round cake tin and bake at 180 C for about an hour.  It is done when a skewer comes out clean but I found I also needed to check that the middle sprang back when a finger was gently pressed on it.  Cool in the tin.  (NB My cake had a big crack in it.)  Dust with icing sugar and serve with cream.

On the stereo:
The Music of Ennio Morricone (free CD in The Sunday Times)

Monday, 16 April 2012

Choc chip muesli slice

I've spent some time recently looking at muesli bar recipes.  In my travels around the web, I have come across some interesting applesauce granola.  Finally I had a chance to try it (though I can't help but call it muesli as I have done all my life). I meddled with the recipe and found it wasn't such a great idea to leave out the brown sugar.  Fortunately I also had a decadent muesli slice recipe to try that could do with some virtuous muesli.

It was a few weeks ago that I made the muesli on a lazy weekend morning.  I don't make muesli often enough.  If I made it more, I would understand how much sweetness I need to make it palatable, I would go through more of the nuts and seeds that hang around in the pantry, but I suspect that Sylvia would not thank me for using up the berry mix that she loves so much.  This applesauce muesli had a lovely toasted texture so I may try it again with a tad more sweetener.

But a barely sweet muesli makes sense in a muesli bar recipe that is chock full of condensed milk and choc chips.  I don't claim that this is health food.  All I will say is that it is a delicious way to eat oats, nuts, seeds and dried fruit.

We all loved the muesli slice.  I was pleased it held together well, even though the middle pieces were quite sticky.  Sylvia made an excellent job of proving that the slice crumbled easily when eaten - in her case that was all over the loungeroom rug!  She did love it when she had a piece, even if not much of it ended up in her mouth.  E said it was much nicer than my usual muesli slices.  I think he particularly loved the choc chips.

For myself, I am pleased that we still have some muesli slice in the house.  It has been a busy month and I love having some to take to work for a satisfying mid morning snack.  The slice is particularly welcome after riding my bike to work, as I found this morning.  I still have a little muesli leftover.  Perhaps I could have it for breakfast tomorrow with some fruit yoghurt!

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: Autumn Apple Cake
This time two years ago: PPN Mee Goreng
This time three years ago: Tupperware, Arran and Tomato Soup
This time four years ago: My Daring Darling Dosa

Choc chip muesli slice
Adapted from taste.com.au
Makes about 57 small squares

580g (4 cups) toasted muesli (see below recipe)
1 x 395ml can sweetened condensed milk
230g (1generous cup or 1 pkt) dark choc bits
40g (1/2 cup) dessicated coconut
35g (1/2 cup) Allbran cereal

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl until well combined.  Tip into a greased and lined lamington tin (9 x 13 inch).  Bake at 180 C for about 30 minutes or until starting to turn golden brown on top.  Mine were still a bit sticky in the middle, and looked a little undercooked on the bottom but I prefer this rather than too crisp around the edges.  Cool in tray and then cut into squares (or bars if you wish) on a large chopping board.  Keeps at least a week in an airtight container.

Applesauce muesli
Adapted from Fake Ginger

3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup nuts (I used pecans, walnuts, almonds)
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
2 tbsp linseeds (flax seeds)
1 tbsp chia seeds
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tbsp honey (or other sweetener)
1 tbsp malt syrup (or other sweetener)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup dried fruit (I used dried berries, apricots and apples)

Mix all ingredients (except dried fruit) in a large roasting tin.  Bake at 160 C (300 F) for about45-50 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes until golden brown.  Stir in dried fruit.  Cool in the tin and store in an airtight container.

On the stereo:
Son of Evil Reindeer: Reindeer selection

Friday, 13 April 2012

Purple Pomegranate Stew

What do you do when you don't have any beetroot on hand for an Iraqi Pomegranate Stew.  Use purple carrots and Italian pasta sauce instead.  Of course!  Ok, so it was a crazy idea but it did work! Sometimes you just have to work with what you have on hand.

I made lots of other changes to Janet's recipe, quite a few inspired by Lisa, including the lentils instead of split peas.  I didn't keep a good track of my times because I was too distracted with Sylvia's dinner and bath while cooking this.  So I have given approximate times.  What you want at the end is for the rice, lentils, zucchini and pumpkin to be so soft that they are on the verge of collapse but have enough shape left to identify them.

It may seem odd to name a stew after the pomegranate molasses when it is such a small part of the stew.  Yet the fruity sweetly sour flavour dominated.  It was also an excellent opportunity to use some mint from the garden, which worked wonderfully with a dollop of yoghurt on top of the stew.

My version was not at all traditional but it was delicious.  Just the thing for the onset of cold weather earlier this week.  It is hearty but also healthy.  Which is important after the excesses of Easter.  If you are looking for something different, or just an excellent way to use some purple carrots, I highly recommend this stew.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: NCR Tricken Rice Soup with Celeriac
This time two years ago: Sappho Bookstore Cafe - for the literati who lunch...
This time three years ago: Wholemeal Chocolate Cake
This time four years ago: The Nut Roast in History

Purple Pomegranate Stew
Adapted from Taste Space and Lisa's Kitchen
Serves 4

200ml tomato sauce (about half this recipe)
1/2 cup puy (brown) lentils
4 cups vegetable stock
2 purple carrots, diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1/2 cup brown rice
700g pumpkin
1 medium zucchini chopped
1/2 cup spring onions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp lime juice (about 1 lime)
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1/8 tsp smoked salt, or to taste
1 shake each of ground chilli and cinnamon
100g baby spinach, chopped
plain yoghurt and chopped fresh mint to serve

Place tomato sauce, vegetable stock, lentils, carrots and celery in a large saucepan and bring to the boil.  Simmer for about 30 minutes until lentils are tender.  Add rice, pumpkin and zucchini and cook for about 30 minutes until vegies are soft.  Add spring onions, lime juice, pomegranate molasses, smoked salt, chilli and cinnamon.  Cook another 15 minutes.  Add spinach and leave for 5 minutes until it wilts.  Serve with a dollop of yoghurt and a scattering of mint leaves.

On the Stereo:
Brooklyn 1976 (bootleg) - Tiny Tim

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Hot Cross Buns - revisited and rescued - plus Easter links

I have been making a tried and true hot cross bun recipe for a few years now.  This year I decided to give the recipe a shake-up with some wholemeal flour and chia seeds.  It seemed a bit touch and go for a while.  Fortunately I have learnt a thing or two from all the bread I have made since I first posted this recipe.  I found that kneading in some olive oil helped the texture.  Even so, I was surprised at how lovely and soft the buns were, considering how recalcitrant the dough was.  Just goes to show how practice does make dough edible if not perfect!

These buns were healthier and vegan and without peel.  (I actually love a little peel in my buns but Sylvia wont have a bit of it.  Maybe some grated orange zest next time might pass muster.)  But my crosses were still thick and sticky and chewy, just as a like them.  I tried a mix of sultanas, cranberries and dried apricots to get the colours of glace cherries (which I don't like) and peel without using a traditional dried fruit mixture.  Next time I will probably not use the apricots which were slightly too tart for the buns.

The dough rose wonderfully, despite Dan Lepard's warning that "spices have a tranquilising effect on yeast".  Apparently salt also retards the yeast's growth so maybe its absence from this recipe helped.  No doubt the yeast also loved rising on a 30 C day.  It was a relaxing day - though by no means quiet.  There was lots of jumping, riding on a kiddie bike, plates falling on the floor, little hands trying to sneak into the batch of hot cross buns and some tears!

I am sending the Hot Cross Buns to Susan at YeastSpotting, the weekly round up of yeasty recipes in the blogosphere.  I have also tried to do a little round up of some Hot Cross Bun recipes and Easter recipes.  I find it really hard to define what is an Easter recipe.  I think many in the Northern Hemisphere have spring recipes.  It is not spring here.  I usually make a nut roast for the Sunday roast dinner but most of the recipes in my Easter list are sweet - chocolate, simnel cake, and easter baking.  I hope to put a bit more thought into this in coming years.  Any suggestions are welcome.

Previous Hot Cross Buns on Green Gourmet Giraffe:

Other interesting Hot Cross Bun recipes:

Other Easter recipes

Wholemeal Hot Cross Buns
Makes 15-16 buns

14g dried yeast (or 30g fresh yeast)
345ml milk, warmed
2 cups white bread flour
2 cups wholemeal flour
1 tbsp chia seeds
2 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
90g butter, chopped (I used nuttalex)
1 cup sultanas
1/4 cup cranberries
1/4 cup dried apricots
1/4 cup brown sugar
1-2 tsp olive oil to knead in

Crosses:
1 cup (150g) plain flour
8-10 tbsp water

Glaze:
1/2 cup (125g) water
1/4 cup (55g) castor sugar
1 tsp mixed spice

Place milk in a jug and sprinkle yeast over it. Stand 5 minutes.  It should start to swell slightly (mine never goes frothy like the original recipe says).

Place flour and spices in the bowl and rub in butter til mixture resembles very fine breadcrumbs. Stir in fruit and sugar. Mix in the milk mixture until the dough comes together into a ball.  You may need to help it along with a few kneads in the bowl to make it a ball.  Mine was quite craggy.

Tip onto a lightly floured surface and knead until comes together.  Then tip a little olive oil onto the table/board and knead it into the dough.  I did this a couple of times and it helped my dough soften even though it never got really soft.  Knead for about 10 minutes.  (The dried fruit kept popping out but I just pressed it back into the dough and leave behind the ones that roll onto the floor!)

Scrape out the mixing bowl and put dough in it with a dry clean tea towel over it.  Stand in a warm place til doubled in size – this should take about 45 minutes.  Punch down the dough and let rise another 30 minutes (I don't usually do this but the wholemeal dough was sturdier so I thought I would give it a little extra).

Knead a minute or two til the dough is smooth. Divide into 15 or 16 pieces and knead each bun til smooth. Arrange close together on a tray and cover with a dry teatowel. Stand in a warm place til doubled in size – this should take about 40 minutes.

About 10-15 minutes before the buns have risen, grease a baking tray (I use a swiss roll tin), preheat the oven (220 C) and prepare the cross mixture. To make the cross mixture, mix the flour and water in a small bowl till it forms a paste.  I used a ziplock plastic bag and snipped off the corner (but make sure you have it well sealed before piping).  I think pipe (thick) lines horizontally and vertically across the tray of buns to make crosses.

Once the crosses are piped, bake buns at 220 C for 10 minutes. Then reduce to 200 C and bake a further 10 minutes or until they  are golden brown and hollow when tapped.

About 10 minutes before the buns are cooked, prepare the glaze. To make the glaze, place all ingredients in a small saucepan. Stir to combine and bring to the boil. Simmer for 1-2 minutes without stirring.

When the buns come out of the oven turn out onto a teatowel-covered wire rack.  (Use an old teatowel because it will get covered in glaze.)  Turning out the buns all joined together, as I like to do, is quick tricky when hot - I use a knife to loosen from the sides and shake the tray gently to loosen on bottom, then I sort of shuffle them out of the tin slowly onto the tea towel - and most of them stay together.  Generously brush glaze on to buns a few times to ensure they have a thick coating. You don't have to use all the glaze but if you keep brushing it on you will use it up and they will be very sticky.

Serve hot from the oven with melted butter. To reheat, my favourite way is to place in 180 C oven for 10 minutes.  My oven isn't very powerful so you may need to check after 5 minutes - often your nose will let you know when they are warm enough.

On the Stereo:
Paradise: Arthur Lyman