Saturday 30 June 2007

Crown Cake for Princess Madeline

When I was small, I collected recipes from magazines and would bind them with wool and a table of contents handwritten on the front of each collection. One such collection was kid’s birthday cakes. These recipes fascinated me with their creative appearances – pianos, trains, fairies. Nothing like my birthday cakes.

Don’t get me wrong. My mum made wonderful birthday cakes using a family sponge cake recipe - iced and sandwiched together with cream or lemon filling. We would light the candles for the birthday boy or girl and then they were re-lit a few times so the younger children in the family could have a go at blowing them out. This is probably why I remember little colour blobs of wax occasionally embedded in the icing.

But as an adult I bought the Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book and actually started to make some for my nieces and eventually to invent a few of my own. I have done some Christmas cake decorating with marzipan and royal icing but I prefer plainer icing and lots of lollies (this is sweeties to the Brits and candy to the Americans). It is not only fun to work with but tastes good.

So some of my nieces are now old enough to have a chat about what cake they will make and help me with the decorating. Today it was my niece, Maddy’s birthday. We have had a few discussions about the cake over the last few months. She loves princesses and fairies and magic. So her idea was a crown cake. I thought it was a great idea – easy and a good excuse for lots of lollies that would represent the wealth of jewels on a crown.

I made the cake last night. It is easiest to ice it after it has sat overnight rather than when it is too fresh. I thought I had made that recipe before – a solid one that will have a nice flat top is best – but this one was a bit more crumbly around the edges than I remember, which made me have my doubts if I had the same recipe. I think I began to wonder when I saw it required me to separate the eggs which I don’t enjoy and chose to ignore. Never mind, it was flat and didn’t crumble too much. (The recipe is below.)

One of the nice things about the kids helping out, is the feeling of connection with the cake as well as some pride in it. I am not a perfectionist when it comes to how it looks. I love baking for kids – they are quite happy to use their imagination, they love bright and bold and silly. And they love to have fun!

This cake was definitely not perfect. I spread jelly crystals at the top of the crown to make it look like velvet, but it didn’t look quite as smooth as I’d hoped. I also made an icing that wasn’t firm enough and didn’t hold it’s shape when I piped a happy birthday message. (I should have listened to Maddy when she cautioned me about using too much water in the icing because there is a drought on.) But it looked fun and bright. My critical eye would suggest next time I should use the little lollies to outline the full crown and make the side 'jewels' smaller than the centre ones - but my inner child loved it. There were also lots of leftover lollies which were used to decorate the little cakes my mum had made (doing about a quarter with commercial gluten free flour which came out well). And, most importantly, the cake tasted delicious – fresh, chocolatey and even a little fluffy.

Chocolate Cake
(adapted from p 14 The Women’s Weekly cakes and slices cookbook)

125g dark chocolate, melted
125g unsalted butter
2 tsp vanilla essence
1½ cups sugar (I used raw sugar)
4 eggs
1 cup self raising flour
¾ cup plain flour
1 cup milk

Grease and line a 23cm round cake tin.

Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add chocolate and beat til mixed. Add half flour and half milk and beat til combined. Add remaining flour and milk and beat well.

Pour batter into prepared cake tin and bake in moderately slow oven for 1¼ hours. It is cooked when a skewer comes out cleanly. Stand 10-15 minutes before turning out onto wire rack to cool. When cool, ice as desired.

On the stereo:
Music for Relaxation: various artists

WHB Soda Bread for Remembrance

In a student household long long ago we had a rosemary bush. It was generous in its abundance but one of my housemates took a dislike to it (or perhaps did a bad pruning job) and hacked away at it until it was a leafless stump that had to be pulled out of the ground. Now I find that, in ancient times, Greek scholars would wear it to help them remember their studies. If only we had known!

Somewhere in my head I hear the words ‘rosemary for remembrance’. A quick search on the web tells me that this robust herb has been used to help remember not just studies, but also fallen soldiers. It is also a symbol of fidelity (does this mean you had to remember you were in love!!!) and love, traditionally used at weddings, funerals and new year. Maybe this is because its hardy evergreen leaves outlast so much else – unless someone brutally hacks it to bits.

Even more interesting are the stories about it. Wiki says rosemary comes from the Latin rosmarinus meaning literally dew of the sea. But I found a fascinating legend which says it actually means the Rose of Mary because when the Virgin Mary spread her coat on a flowering rosemary bush, its tiny flowers turned it blue. This interested me as many of the images of Mary I saw as a child were with a blue cloak. say it has another alternative Spanish name, romero or the Pilgrim's Flower because it protected Mary on the flight into Egypt, and that the Spanish and Sicilians continue to see it as a protection from witches and evil - interesting meeting of traditions! Marie at Thyme for Herbs talks of an English legend about a rosemary bush not growing taller after its 33rd year because that was the year in which Christ died. Wow! I would be happy if I could keep any herbs alive for a year. Finally I found why I kept thinking remembrance: Madeline Wajda reminds us that in Hamlet, Ophelia says, "There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance…"

I bought some rosemary on the weekend for roast potatoes. It was on sale and I know that it is traditional with a roast. But once I had used a few sprigs I had no other obvious uses for it. I also discovered in my searches on the web that it come from the same family as mint. This makes sense. Both herbs have strong tastes that people tend to pair with meat. I am sure I have cooked with it before but couldn’t remember what – it seemed like one of those jokes where if I could cook with rosemary maybe I could remember what I could cook with rosemary :-)

But a search of the web pulled up a few interesting rosemary recipes, mostly pasta recipes, that I might try. Then, fortuitously, my trusty recipe notebook, that has been with me for years, happened to fall open at a recipe that piqued my interest. I think I might have made it before, though not necessarily with rosemary.

It is a soda bread made with mashed potato. There are a few options for different versions: olive, cheese and rosemary; or walnut cheese and rosemary; or dill, chives, saffron ad cheese. The olive version interested me because it reminded me of foccaccias and pizzas with potato and olive and even rosemary. Seemed a nice tradition to follow.

I also felt I had to get back up on the horse after making my Guinness soda bread last week which had too much flour – it actually tasted great but wasn’t the soft dough I remember in previous soda breads I've made. The olive and rosemary dough was much much much softer than my Guinness one. Almost too soft. I tried to knead it but that didn’t help, but I couldn’t work out how else I was to get it onto a tray other than by having a messy shaggy mass. I don’t think it would have helped if I had remembered to add the cheese. Seems I need to go back to my favourite sweet potato soda bread recipe soon.

But this tasted good. Reminds me a little of having mashed potato and promite on toast – a great combination. Excellent with soup or for breakfast. The potato and olives are so tasty and chunky (I didn’t mash too vigourously) that it didn’t need any butter or spread this morning. And we can’t forget rosemary. The little green flecks look interesting and I think it does add a pleasing herby taste.

I am sending this to Kalyn at Kalyns Kitchen who is hosting weekend herb blogging this week.

Remembrance Soda Bread

1 cup mashed potato (approx 2 large potatoes)
2 cups unbleached plain flour (I used half white, half wholemeal)
1¼ cups self raising flour
1 tsp bicarb soda
½ tsp sugar
Salt (optional)
2 tbsp chopped rosemary (optional)
60 g grated hard cheese (optional)
180g black olives, pitted and chopped (optional)
1 tbsp (20g) cold butter or margarine
300ml buttermilk
60g egg

Preheat oven to 190ºC. Grease an oven tray.

Put flours, soda, salt and sugar into a medium bowl. Rub in butter or margarine (this is a soothing activity but I think it would be so much easier to just melt it and add to liquid). Add rosemary, olives and cheese.

In a separate small bowl or jug mix mashed potato, buttermilk and egg. Add to dry ingredients and mix to combine. The recipe says to mix to a dough and not to overmix. There is nothing about kneading and yet it is so soft and shaggy it is hard to put on the tray without a bit of patting it about a bit.

Make flattish round on a tray. Make a cross on top with a knife. Dust lightly with flour and bake 45-65 minutes (It took me 65 minutes and it still was incredibly moist).

On the Stereo:
Judas as Black Moth: Current 93

Thursday 28 June 2007

Red Rascal Burgers

Do you remember in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when Violet Beauregarde tried the three course dinner in a gum? It seemed such a wonderful idea. But the blueberry pie turned her into a blueberry. This is story of my attempt to put a roast dinner into a burger.

I have described my roast dinner from the weekend. Well we ate it two nights running and I still had heaps leftover. The remains of the nutroast is in the freezer but I wanted to make burgers out of the remaining veggies. I was sort of inspired by bubble and squeak. I love the idea of it but never have the leftovers to do it properly. Well when I check the web, it seemed it is potatoes and sprouts or cabbage. Sprouts were the one veggies I did not have leftover and no one used pumpkin, so I had to create my own version of bubble and squeak.

So I mushed up my cauliflower cheese with roasted pumpkin and potato. The pumpkin mushed up beautifully but the cold potato was unyielding and had to be chopped up. Then I decided to make it a reminder of the meal I would add ground nuts and breadcrumbs to remind me of my nutroast. If I had had sprouts I would have put them in too and may do next time. I am sure Willy Wonka would be impressed if he ran a burger joint rather than a chocolate factory. I think he would understand my decision not to include dessert, too. Don’t wont to risk turning into a blueberry :-)

I named these burgers, Red Rascal after the potatoes I used just because I loved the name. I served them with gravy so it did feel like having my roast all over again. I actually cooked them 20 minutes the night before so I could freeze some. This meant that I think they were a bit more chewy than necessary when I cooked them the next day but I was happy with them. I think the cauliflower cheese gave a great creamy cheesy taste to them, and they no doubt benefited from the sweet intensity of the roasted veggies. They would probably be just as good without the nuts

As well as the gravy, I served them with the stir fried onion, cabbage, beetroot, beetroot leaves, sauerkraut, mushrooms, chickpeas with a bit of garlic, lemon, smoked paprika and yoghurt. The veggies were nice but not nearly as nice as my burgers.

Red Rascal Burgers
(makes 12 small patties)

3-4 roasted potatoes, chopped finely
1 cup roasted pumpkin, mashed
1-2 cups cauliflower cheese
3 cloves roasted garlic, finely chopped
1/3 cup almonds
2/3 cup breadcrumbs
2 tbsp fresh parsley
Seasoning to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Form into patties. I made 12 small patties. Toss patties in extra dry breadcrumbs til covered. Spray with olive oil spray. Fry in non stick saucepan – about 5 mins each side (or alternatively put under the griller). Place in moderate oven about 20-30 minutes or til crisp. Serve with gravy.

On the stereo:
Choir of Hard Knocks

Tuesday 26 June 2007

Winter Solstice Roast Dinner

Saturday 23 June was the winter solstice down in my part of the world (well the closest Saturday to it – I think it was actually 21st June this year). Also E is fascinated by the number 23. If it was the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere, we would have Christmas. But in Melbourne we get the cold and the rain without Christmas lights, parties and feasts. So I thought I would do a nice roast dinner just like my mum used to do.

When I was a child we had roast dinners on an almost weekly basis. Both my grandmothers would also make wonderful roasts. Like baking bread, they fill the house with a wonderful homely aroma. My mum still makes them frequently when I visit. So they are comfort and nostalgia to me. Her roasts are meat centred but she always makes sure there are lots of veggies for me.

She places large shallow metal trays filled with meat, potato and pumpkin in the oven to roast while she attends to her large garden. When the meat has been cooked and put on a clean plate, mum makes gravy in the roasting dish over a gas burner. I never eat her meaty gravy but I still like the ritual of stirring the bubbling liquid and watching it thicken and brown. She whips up cauliflower cheese sauce in the microwave with some rigorous stirring, and pours it over cooked cauliflower which goes in the oven. Lastly, she breaks open a bag of frozen peas and puts that in the microwave too. It all looks so effortless.

Mum says it is one of the easiest dinners for her to make. It takes me a little more energy – maybe because I am not practiced at them or because I usually make a nutroast rather than throwing a joint of meat in the oven. I find it takes hours but it is well worth it.

I hope my description of how central roast dinners were to my childhood will help you understand why I was so delighted to discover nutroasts. I was lucky enough to be made one by my then housemate, Yarrow, soon after I went vegetarian. As a person who never liked meat much, nutroast was a revelation that made me wonder why people eat meat when they can eat nutroast. It is truly the food of the gods!

My older vegetarian cookbooks (and particularly the British ones) all have nutroasts but I think it is old school vegetarian. It hails from the time when vegetarians were defensive and out to prove they were able to eat food as heavy and filling as meat. In our current health-conscious era, meat eaters want to eat meals as light as vegetarians. Ironic, isn’t it? I guess it wasn’t such fun being a vegetarian when less vegetables were available. So nutroast is yesterday's hero. But I am an old fashioned gal and still love it passionately. It is as substantial as any meat, it has the creaminess that I always loved in peanut butter, it has crisp edges as good as any pork crackling, it has all the dense yeastiness of good bread. And if I haven’t convinced nutroast virgins to try it (and I mean home made, not the stuff you buy in a tin), then you might as well return to your meat or your mock meat or whatever you love. (For more information on nut roasts go here.)

Nutloaves are great – they can do a lot of things meat once did for me – but only better. The roast dinner needs a central dish - something that is substantial and strongly flavoured - nutroast is the perfect vegetarian dish. The roast I did on Saturday was nutroast, roast potatoes and pumpkin (from my childhood), cauliflower cheese (another dish my mother perfected), gravy and sprouts. I hated sprouts as a child but have come to appreciate them for winter warmth, and for signalling the depth of winter in the UK. Peas were the green food of choice for my mum’s roasts but they have a spring in their step and a freshness that doesn’t quite sit as well with a comforting midwinter meal as sprouts. We got out the nice serving dishes, poured some wine in the Waterford crystal and lit the candelabra so it felt like a special meal.

I’ll give you a lengthy description of my roast dinner because it is so important to me. This is just a cosy chat about what I do rather than a stern recipe (except the nutloaf recipe which is a bit more dogmatic but even that can be changed hugely). Some of you can probably do this with your hands tied behind your back, but I am happy to swap tips. The menu was:

- Nutloaf with gravy
- Roast potatoes and pumpkin
- Cauliflower cheese
- Brussels sprouts

Serves 6

There are many nutloaf recipes but this is a good simple tasty one – I scribbled it in my recipe notebook 15 years ago and haven’t a clue where it comes from but I have added a few more options than the recipe. It is great with cashews but other nuts are good too.

1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp (25g) butter
4 small mushrooms, chopped finely
1 tomato, chopped finely (or 1-2 tbsp tomato sauce or paste)
1 1/2 tsp plain wholemeal flour
150ml vegetable stock
1 1/2 tsp yeast extract eg vegemite or promite
2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
150g ground nuts (eg 100g cashew and 50g almond OR 100g almond and 50g hazelnut)
100g breadcrumbs (about 4 pieces fresh bread or 1 cup dried)
1 egg
Seasoning to taste (I didn’t use any)

Preheat oven to 180ºC. Grease and line a loaf tin. Melt butter in a medium large saucepan. Fry onion in butter til soft – about 5-10 minutes over low heat. Add mushrooms and tomato or tomato sauce. Fry another 2-4 minutes. Sprinkle flour in and stir 1 minute over heat. Add stock and cook over medium – high heat til mixture boils and thickens. Turn off the heat. Add remaining ingredients and stir til combined. Bake for 45-60 minutes. The recipe says to cover with foil for the first 45 minutes but I don’t bother. You can tell it is done when it is firm to touch and crisped up on the top a little.

NOTES: I have to rave about nutloaf again. It is wonderful in roasts but can be used in so many ways. I love having leftovers. I serve it sliced thinly on toast with tomato and cheese. I chop it into chunks and put it into spag bol or chilli non carne (instead of mince). You can cook the mixture as burgers or nutballs (to have with spag bol). And of course it can be heated and served with most vegetables and salad.


Because I usually don’t have my mum’s meaty gravy, it is a treat to make gravy. A lot of recipes seem to strain or puree the gravy but I like chunks of onion in it. So the way I make it is to fry up a chopped onion in a little oil or butter til they go brown. The I add flour (a spoon or two) and stir over low heat so the flour browns. Then I add some water, maybe some red wine or port, some soy sauce or promite (yeast extract). Taste to check seasoning. Bring to boil. Once it boils it should have thickened but if it hasn't, then just simmer til it thickens. It should be able to pour easily. I have a gravy boat I can serve it in – that always makes me happy!

Roast potatoes and pumpkin
The longer they roast the better, so get them on early. I used red skinned potatoes (desiree, red rascal, etc) and a wedge of pumpkin such as kent, jap, queensland blue. I chop up the potatoes (medium potatoes will make 2 – 4 pieces), put them in a saucepan with about an inch of water, cover and place them on medium to high heat. It will take about 5 minutes for them to come to the boil.

Meanwhile, heat a tablespoon or two of oil in a large roasting dish in a hot oven (I usually use olive oil). You might need two dishes if you have lots of veggies. Then chop up the pumpkin. When the potatoes have come to the boil, drain them. Take the dish out of the oven and place the potatoes and pumpkin in it. I think the theory is that the oil seals rather than soaks in if it is hot. I sometimes put on cold oil but with time and patience, I think hot oil is better. The potatoes are a bit wet so might sizzle a little as the water and oil meet, but this is ok.

Both potatoes and pumpkin become so meltingly sweet and soft when roasted for a long time that they don’t need any additional flavours other than some seasoning to taste. I don’t even bother to peel the skin off – it tastes delicious and is nutritious too. Big chunks are better than small, provided you have time because the larger they are the longer they take to roast. Save the small chunks for when you are in a rush. Sprinkle some salt or pepper if you desire. I put in rosemary and garlic cloves on a whim on the weekend but neither are necessary.

Brush the oil over the veggies (I use a silicone brush). Place in a hot to very hot oven – I often go up to 230ºC but sometimes lower. I would recommend at least 2 hours. Actually you can get away with less but the longer they are in the more they crisp up on the outside and soften inside. Check every 20 – 40 minutes – give the pan a shake to loosen them from the tin, I usually just use a spoon and fork to turn them over but you can use an eggflip or spatula, and I try and make sure they are still covered with oil – this is usually taken care of by turning them but you may need to brush it on again. After a while, they dry out and crisp up so don’t worry too much if the oil dries up. And don’t worry about bits that stick to the bottom of the dish and float around getting really crisp – they are some of the best bits.

You can roast lots of different veggies – parsnip, carrot, turnip, corn on the cob, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, beetroot, garlic – the list is endless, although cooking times may vary. I chose to do potato and pumpkin for a traditional meal because that is what my mum always did.

Cauliflower cheese
In posh circles this is called Cauliflower Au Gratin but calling it Cauliflower Cheese is good enough where I come from. To make this as my mum makes it, I first put on cauliflower to boil, steam or microwave til tender (I boiled it for 15 minutes). Drain when cooked and set aside in a shallow casserole dish.

Then I make a cheese sauce. I often avoid making cheese sauce because it is heavy and likely to be either lumpy, too thin or too thick but it is wonderful comfort food. To make it I take a small or medium size saucepan and melt a couple of dessert spoons of butter or margarine. Add 2-3 dessert spoons of plain flour – the sauce should be quite thick (NB my sister, Susie, uses gluten free flour for her white sauce and it tastes fine). Stir the flour into butter and stir over low heat for a 1-3 minutes. This part (known as making a roux) is the bit I don’t like but I have been told is important – it just seems to go greasy and be likely to stick to the pan.

Now add milk very gradually (I think I added 1½ cups) – if I add it too quickly it goes lumpy, so I add a little and when it is incorporated, I add a bit more. This is probably the white-sauce-for-dummies route – my mum adds milk in much larger amounts and never has these problems! I usually add a handful of grated cheese and a tsp of seeded mustard but you could just season the sauce which I think is what my mum does.

Pour cheese sauce over the cauliflower. Sprinkle with grated tasty cheese and breadcrumbs to barely cover. Bake in moderate to hot oven about 30 minutes or until cheese is melted and golden (ie pop it in with the roasting veggies).

Brussels sprouts

I hated Brussels sprouts as a child, but thanks to Rose Elliot and my friend Yarrow, I now love them. He made them a few years ago, using Rose Elliot's method and I have been hooked ever since. The trick is not to overcook them. E even eats them quite happily (and it has been a Christmas tradition for his dad and him to complain about the sprouts). I never realised how important sprouts were in a British winter til I lived in Scotland – last time I visited I lived on sprouts!

Rose Elliot in Vegetarian Christmas suggests you trim the base and the outer leaves. Then cut the sprouts in half. Boil 4-5 minutes or til just done – they should be still bright green but tender (not grey-green and soggy). Drain and serve tossed with a little butter, salt and pepper. You wont look back!

On the Stereo: 
Son of Evil Reindeer: Reindeer Selection

Sunday 24 June 2007

LOT #6 Leftover Beetroot Koftas in Carrot Sauce

After my stuffed dumpling effort last week, I had quite a bit of the beetroot filling leftover and not much energy for much cooking. It was a interesting mixture of textures and tastes - it had beetroot, potato, cottage cheese, walnuts and a tad too much lemon zest.

Some nights I spend lots of time cooking in the kitchen, listening to music or keeping an eye on the telly. But work does not leave me with the energy to do this every night and I love my leftovers from the fridge and freezer. Leftovers do not mean the same old thing every night. They force me to be creative in serving up the same food in different ways – as well as allowing me to sit and relax in front of the evening news. I was interested to see a challenge started by David on Cooking Chat which asks bloggers to be innovative with leftovers. This month Delores at Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity is hosting. I thought, I could do that, so here is my recipe renovation.

I thought the bright purple beetroot colour would look pretty as dumplings but it was quite moist. The previous night, I had used it to fill dumplings but these were outside my comfort zone because I am not used to stuffed dumplings. The sort of dumplings I am familiar with, are the sort that soak up the flavours of a stew. I made a spicy carrot and bean dip a couple of months back which went into the freezer when I had eaten my fill. It was a lovely orange colour which would have a nice retro look with beetroot purple dumplings. The spiciness made me think of Indian-style koftas.

Freezers produce some wonderful possibilities for resurrections. As well as my dip, I found a a small multigrain bread roll which I grated into the beetroot mixture to make it firmer. I watered down the dip and tipped it into a medium casserole dish. Then I rolled the beetroot mixture into small dumplings (more purple hands!) and placed them in the dip-cum-sauce. I baked it in a moderate oven for about 30 minutes.

For accompaniments I went back to my freezer for a tub that has been lurking too long. I thought it was curry but found it was a corn and pasta stew. I had beetroot leaves leftover from buying the baby beetroots so I chopped them up and fried them with some mushrooms, lemon juice and smoked paprika. And finally, I had some Guinness bread I had made during the week. The meal felt like a pot luck supper with bits and pieces from everywhere but it was delicious.
The extreme lemon taste of the beetroot koftas was nicely balanced by the spices in the sauce. In addition I liked the chunky texture of the koftas with the smooth pureed sauce. Possibly they were better served this way than in the potato dumpling dough - lighter and able to feature more prominently.

To make this complete meal from scratch would have been hours of work – maybe this is why leftover meals can be so hard to replicate. But I would recommend the beetroot dumplings in spicy carrot and bean sauce (check the links above for original recipes). They were great first time round, but I still had them leftover the next day, and enjoyed them on toast. I almost put them into another leftover meal but it was getting ridiculous: how many times one can use leftovers! But I still have a couple of dumplings in the fridge. Maybe tomorrow’s lunch?

SHF: Mud Glorious Mud

I love chocolate cake. I love it rich, dense, fudgy. But when I was growing up, I thought chocolate cake was a butter cake with cocoa. Then along came mud cakes.

Mud cake was a wondrous revelation of how decadent chocolate cakes could be. I discovered them before brownies and flourless chocolate cakes, before I owned cookbooks like Death by Chocolate. I have one recipe from the Women’s Weekly that I have used for years and never fails to deliver. It is too good to need to be iced and it goes by the name of Mississippi Mud Cake but I am not quite sure why – E cheekily suggested since I was using Scottish whisky I could call it Glasgow Mud Cake.

Suddenly mud cakes were so trendy that cafes everywhere started serving them, and still do. But familiarity breeds contempt. Mud cake in a café is a fine thing when it is done well but too often it has been drying out and/or sitting in a fridge and is more like a dried crust of mud than the fresh oozing mud the name alludes to. In this time of drought, we want our food to remind us of moist fertile soil rather than the dusty arid paddocks.

What actually made me yearn to make mudcake was my interest in Australian herbs and spices. Anh at Food Lover’s Journey recently made a wattleseed apple and almond cake which looked fantastic (and gluten free) but it used 8 eggs. Now for someone like me who buys eggs in half dozen cartons, this is a lotta eggs. But what particularly attracted me about wattleseeds is hearing them described as having an intense nutty aroma that has similarities to coffee. Not only do I shun lots of eggs but I hate using coffee in cakes. I know I sound fussy but I don’t like the taste. (I often wish I loved coffee on a sleepy morning but I have tried and failed).

Many chocolate cake recipes use coffee which I often put in begrudgingly, knowing that the bitterness is needed to counteract the sweetness. However, I was quite excited at the idea of using ground wattleseeds instead of coffee. So the first cake that came to mind with coffee was mud cake. I had to try it.

I love baking on a winter’s day. It is dark outside, the clothes are drying on a rack by the heater, E is reading on the couch, relaxing music on the stereo, and no rush. This is one of life’s luxuries. Comfort is found in making a recipe we know well as much as eating a familiar food. It is a pleasure to stir such glossy and smooth mixture, and, of course, to sample the batter for quality control purposes.

We ate it after it had sat a few hours but it was still warm and sludgy. It was with delight that I remembered just how good mud cake could be. The top is a thin crisp shell the hides the oozy fudgy middle. The recipe called for a square cake tin so you can cut it up into squares but I like it in a round tin and served in wedges so everyone gets a share of the soft yielding centre. It was so good I wanted to eat and eat it but it is a cake to be eaten in small slices, shared with many and, as a last resort, frozen in slices to be enjoyed later.

I can’t say I really could taste the wattleseeds because the taste of whisky is quite strong in the cake but I did feel happier that the cake had the bitterness of coffee without the coffee. I will continue to investigate how wattleseeds can replace coffee in cakes – but I love them already just because they are another excuse to make more chocolate cakes (as if I needed any)!

Wattleseed Mud Cake
(adapted from the Women’s Weekly Cakes and Slices Cookbook)

250g butter, chopped
150g dark chocolate, chopped
1 cup hot water
2 cups sugar (I used both castor and raw sugars)
⅓ cup whisky
1 tbsp ground wattleseeds (or coffee granules)
1 ½ cups plain flour
¼ cup self raising flour
¼ cup cocoa
2 eggs

Grease and line 23-25 cm round cake tin. Preheat oven to 160º.

Combine butter, chocolate, water, sugar and whisky in a large bowl and microwave til melted. (It only took me a bit over 2 minutes in the microwave on high. If you don’t have a microwave use a medium-large saucepan to melt these ingredients.) When it is all melted it looks like the chocolate hasn’t totally mixed with the other ingredients (see photo above) but don’t worry as the flours seem to bind everything. The recipe says to cool but I don’t bother with that.

Add flours, cocoa and eggs and mix til combined and smooth. The recipe says to sift flours and cocoa which I also don’t bother with – there are small lumps that look like there will be flour bombs in the cooked cake but the cooked cake always looks fine.

Pour into prepared cake tin and bake 1¼ hours. I don’t bother to test with a skewer as I think the cake should be slightly gooey inside. It needs to sit at least 10 minutes before turning out – I left mine 30-60 minutes (I was too distracted to notice exactly how long) and then turned it out onto a plate. It needs to cool for an hour or two before eating but is wonderful warm, dusted with a little icing sugar and served with cream and berries.

This is my entry to this month’s Sugar High Friday which is hosted by The Domestic Goddess. The theme in June is most favoured, most craved desserts. Update: Also see a more childfriendly version of the cake that I made in 2010.

On the stereo:
Dozin’ at the Knick: Grateful Dead

Saturday 23 June 2007

The Green Grocer – friendly and fresh

Update: The Green Grocer is now closed 

This morning E and I met my sister Francesca, her partner Steve and his three kids for brunch in North Fitzroy. We went to three places before we could find a place with enough room to fit seven of us. I was beginning to despair when we walked into the Green Grocer which seemed as full of latte luvvies as the previous two places. It has a narrow entrance with boxes of fruit and vegetables lining one wall and a counter full of cakes on the other side. This is truly the grocer the name suggests, as well as a café, which fit snugly into an old Victorian terrace house.

But there was room for us. We were ushered upstairs to a bright spacious room with original artwork on the walls, rows of wine bottles and a large window looking out to the cast iron balcony that overlooked St George’s Road. I am not used to brunch with a gaggle of children, but was impressed with the staff’s patience with the, changing their minds about their order. And the verandah gave them space to play and explore.

For my brunch I chose the veggie big breakfast. This consisted of a fetta and herb pancake, homemade baked beans, tomato, mushroom, spinach, avocado and hash brown with a pesto sauce. It was excellent. The food tasted fresh: less fried and stodgy than the usual big breakfast. The colours of wilted spinach and kidney beans in tomato sauce on the pancake were bright and appealing. I had been tempted to ask for toast rather than the pancake but was glad I didn’t, as the pancake was thick and substantial enough to hold its own against all the flavours. The round little hash brown was crispy on the outside and had a pleasing chunky inside that went well with the meltingly ripe wedge of avocado.

I also had a freshly squeezed juice – apple, carrot and beetroot. This is my favourite combination and was pleasing. E had porridge which he said was not how the Scots make it – it had sultanas, banana, honey and some sort of seeds, but he says it was nicely warming on a cold winter’s morning. I also tasted some of the sweet treats which the kids had (their breakfast was long ago) and found them pleasing too. Oh and I am told the coffee was good.

The staff were friendly and accommodating for both children and adults. Coming downstairs to the counter, I found myself tempted by all sorts of interesting food. I was just sad I had bought bread elsewhere and so a loaf of the excellent looking sourdough bread was out of the question. Maybe next time.

The Green Grocer
217 St Georges Road
Fitzroy North
tel: 03 94891747

Update: The Green Grocer is now closed

Friday 22 June 2007

WTSIM Blushing dumplings

I love dumplings and I was excited to see that the Waiter There’s Something in My... event was dumplings this month. I have lots of dumpling recipes I’d love to make. Then I read more closely. Mine host, Johanna from the Passionate Cook, said they had to be stuffed. She kindly said this could include ravioli or wantons. Now ravioli and wantons are familiar to me but I could not fathom what sort of stuffed dumpling she meant because she is Austrian and seems to come from a tradition that is unknown to me. I was intrigued.

I spoke to my mum and asked if she had heard of stuffed dumplings from Europe. Nope. Both of us thought dumplings were little floury balls that you put in a stew to add bulk and soak up the flavour (or golden syrup dumplings if you wanted to talk about sweet dumplings). I think that is our Anglo-Celtic ancestry.

I realised that I had recently made pierogi which were probably closer to Johanna’s dumplings and she said I was welcome to do a similar recipe. But I need hours to make it and wanted to try something else. I did a stuffed dumplings search on the net and couldn’t find much, although when I searched pierogi I was amazed at the amount of recipes. I have only heard of pierogi from one friend but apparently there is any number of variations out there which mostly involve sauerkraut, potato and cheese. So I guess I could have tried one of these but I thought I would try Johanna’s dumpling dough and my own filling.

It is beetroot season here. I know because I read it in a foodie magazine in the supermarket queue yesterday. I love beetroots for their colour. Indeed, I have been imagining a beetroot filling in stuffed dumplings because it would have such a startlingly bright middle. I have even visualized the dumplings bleeding a scarlet blush through the dough. So I had to have a beetroot filling. And I was home from work a little early so I thought I had the bit more time I needed to make dumplings.

I had the choice between baking and boiling the dumplings. I was afraid they might fall apart in the boiling water and, if they survived their swim, I wasn’t sure how to serve them. All I could think of was a nun at my high school telling my class we looked like suet puddings with raisins for eyes. Baking seemed easier.

I made a sauce based on Johanna’s suggestions but with some colourful veggies – it wasn’t as uniformly green as I had hoped but had nice splashes of colour. When I chopped the gloriously dark purple basil I bought on a whim recently, I was delighted to be told by E that it looked like something out of a David Lynch horror movie. The downside to the sauce was that if my dumplings were blushing, I couldn’t see under all that sauce. E preferred calling them Dumplings with Wound (after one of his favourite bands, Nurse with Wound). It sounded too gory, but truth be told, they did almost look like a wound when cut open.

My problems started when I served. The beetroot filling which had tasted bland tasted quite lemony, the sauce which had been full of pesto tasted bland and the dough tasted like stodgy mashed potato. Probably the best thing was the great texture of the walnuts in the filling. It wasn’t as good as I expected for dinner that had taken hours (see photo to right). When I went back to the recipe I saw that we had waited ages, only to eat undercooked dumplings. Later, I discovered I had misread the recipe and only baked them about 25 minutes when it should have been 2 or 3 times that. Which means that if I had cooked them as long as Johanna suggested it might have been over 3 hours preparation and cooking time.

But in the name of science I put the cold leftovers in the oven for another 30 minutes. When they came out both texture and flavour were vastly improved. The sauce was thickened to form a thin cover and the dumplings had firmed up (see photo at top of this entry). One of the risks of making unfamiliar foods is no expectations of how it might taste or look. I am looking forward to seeing what others make for the event.

It was hearty winter fare indeed. It does seem like a meal for a hausfrau who has hours to spend cooking rather than a working woman who rushes in the door already hungry before starting to make dinner. But I haven’t met a dumpling I don’t like (when it is cooked properly). Next time I think maybe a blue cheese sauce with them would be good or I might try cooking them in a tomato stew and serving with green vegetables. So thank you Johanna for opening a door to the unknown. I am sure I will be back to explore further.

Baked blushing dumplings
(serves 4-6)

Potato Dough:
- 500g floury potatoes, roughly chopped
- 150g or 1 cup of plain flour (I did half wholemeal and half plain)
- 1 small egg
- ¼tsp veggie salt, or to taste

Green and Purple Sauce:
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 egg
- 1 head of broccoli, finely chopped and steamed
- Handful of baby spinach leaves, finely chopped
- Bunch of purple basil, finely chopped
- 50g pesto
- 1 tbsp cornflour
- Handful of tasty cheese

Beetroot filling
- 7 baby beetroots, peeled and grated
- 1 tbsp raspberry vinegar
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- ½ cup water
- 1 small potato, cooked and mashed
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ cup walnuts, crushed with the back of a fork
- zest of a small lemon
- 100g cottage cheese

Pour about 1 inch of cold water in a small saucepan and add potatoes. Cover and bring to the boil. Simmer until tender – It took me approximately 25 minutes from when I put them on the gas flame. Mash well – I use a potato masher and then stir with a spoon. When mixture has cooled add flour and egg and salt to taste. Turn out onto a floured board and knead a few minutes, adding some flour, til smooth. It makes a very soft dough that needs constant flouring or it gets sticky.

Divide the dough into 12 pieces. Use hands to pat each piece out flat (about 7-10cm diameter). Place a teaspoon of filling in the centre of the circle and pull dough around filling. Pinch shut and shape to seal dough around filling so it is a smooth round ball.

Place dumplings in a large greased quiche dish. Mix the buttermilk, egg, broccoli, pesto, spinach, basil and cornflour together. Pour over dumplings and make sure all dumplings are covered and mixture is evenly distributed. Sprinkle with cheese and bake at 200ºC for 45-60 minutes or til sauce has set and cheese is a golden brown. Serve hot with sauerkraut.

To Make Filling (while potatoes are cooking and cooling): Place beetroot, vinegar, garlic and water in a frypan on medium to high heat. When it starts boiling, cover and cook til water has evaporated – approximately 10-15 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and stir.

On the Stereo:
Sowiesoso: Cluster

Wednesday 20 June 2007

My Goodness it’s Guinness Bread and Orange Veggies

Isn’t it strange how we believe what we read, or what we think we read? Well tonight I decided to use up my leftover Guinness from the cake I made on the weekend. It was only as I started to check over my recipe once the bread was in the oven, that I saw I had missed a vital word in the recipe – ‘OR’.

Yes, I put in the two cups of wholemeal flour AND two cups of oatmeal and oatbran. Oops! I had liked the sound of the recipe because it sounded like an Irish soda bread but more wholesome grains and the slightly bitter dark taste of Guinness. I love soda breads because they are quick and straightforward and usually pleasingly soft. But this dough was quite stiff which I thought was the recipe but have now discovered it was because I inadvertently added an extra two cups of flour through carelessness. Despite my oversight, the bread tasted surprisingly good – a little moist and stodgy but not bad for a total carwreck of a bread. I have reproduced the recipe as it should be rather than as I made it.

I served it with a variation on a dish I made recently – Pickled Brussels Sprouts. I cooked some beetroot leaves recently and wasn’t keen but Lucy who introduced me to the sprouts recipe, encouraged me to try again. So I did. But I found them a little bitter last time and thought some orange juice might make them more palatable. So why not Cointreau as well. I added lots of veggies to make it a full meal rather than a side dish.

I wont give an exact recipe for the Orange Veggies but I can tell you what I put in: olive oil, brown onion, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, garlic, beetroot leaves, chickpeas, juice of half an orange, chopped flesh of half an orange, zest of one orange, Cointreau, parsley, purple basil,. Served with corn on the cob and Guinness bread, these veggies were great mix of textures and colours – and I never even noticed I forgot to add salt (until now when I list the ingredients). One thing I noticed today and found quite pleasing was the pinkish colour the beetroot leaves give out. Maybe this dish will be a regular (thanks Lucy).

Wholesome Guinness Soda Bread
(Adapted from Karott Productions)

2 cups plain whole wheat flour OR 1 cup each quick-cooking oatmeal and oatbran
2 cups plain white flour
1 tbsp cup superfine sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
8 Tablespoons butter or margarine
1 teaspoon malt extract (optional – I didn’t use)
1 ½ cups buttermilk
1 cup Guinness

Preheat oven to 425º F. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan and dust with whole meal flour (I actually used 1 small loaf tin and a 15cm square tin).

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flours, sugar, soda, and salt. Rub in the butter. Add buttermilk, and Guinness and mix well. Spoon into prepared pan and sprinkle with 1 to 2 tablespoons plain whole wheat flour.

Bake for 30 minutes, then reduce heat to 400º F and bake 15 to 30 minutes longer (mine too another 15 minutes). Bread is done when a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Turn off the oven and cool with the door open for 30 minutes. I left it about 15 minutes and then ate it hot. Cool it if you want as the recipe suggests but I was ready to eat it.

On the Stereo:
Deserter's Songs: Mercury Rev

Tuesday 19 June 2007

Guinness Chocolate Cake for Bloomsday

On Saturday night I had dinner with my friends Kathleen and Mook, and I said I would bring a cake. I decided to take a Chocolate Guinness Cake because it was Bloomsday.

I was fortunate enough to be in Dublin some years back on Bloomsday (16 June). For the uninitiated, James Joyce wrote Ulysses about a day in the life of Leopold Bloom on 16 June 1904. The novel gives such a detailed description of Dublin that over 100 years later it is still possible to trace Bloom's steps through the city, and that is one of the ways that Dubliners celebrate the day. I was able to enjoy readings on O’Connell St Bridge, in a pub and in a bookstore. I haven’t read the novel – it is reputedly long and difficult, albeit rewarding. In fact, most people I met in Dublin on that Bloomsday hadn’t read it so I didn’t feel so bad but I hope I will read it one day.

Ulysses was first published in Paris in 1922 by Sylvia Beach, ex-pat American and owner of Shakespeare and Company bookstore. She spotted genius and innovative use of language in the book but he was not the easiest person: on one occasion she described him as a Napoleonic figure who’d grind his fellow beings’ bones to make his bread. Luckily for Joyce, his books have overshadowed his personality. And if you want to see the sort of food Leopold Bloom ate, check out the Old Foodie.

Instead of the likes of kidney fritters, we had Mediterranean Pie and Chocolate Guinness Cake. Much nicer and seemed appropriate given Joyce’s European and Dublin connections. Kathleen made a wonderful pie filled with tender, well seasoned eggplant, capsicum and olives stuffed within a homemade buttery short crust pastry. I don’t like making pastry and always admire anyone who does it well. And there was garlic bread too, followed by the Guinness Chocolate Cake, cherries and cream.

When I browsed the Guiness Chocolate cake recipes on the web, I was interested to see that both Nigella and Delia have published recipes for this cake which shows it is quite trendy. Quite a lot of recipes had sour cream but I opted for a dairy free recipe I wrote down years ago – I think it was from The Age newspaper.

Every recipe I found had cocoa rather than chocolate, but once I started following the recipe, I understood why. The chocolate and cocoa are mixed together to form a pleasing sludge – it was so like mud, it made me want to step in it barefoot and feel it ooze between my toes! Instead I was adult and used it to make the cake dark and rich. My cake wasn’t quite cooked in the centre but the goo was enjoyable. It is that sort of rich moist cake – although it is a rich version of a butter cake rather than decadent in the fashion of a mud cake or flourless chocolate cake.

I toyed with the idea of a white chocolate ganache to imitate the frothy head of the Guinness. Nigella did hers with a cream cheese frosting. But I felt it was rich enough without icing and had some new icing stencils to test out. The icing sugar stars looked great and the cherries and cream were a pleasing accompaniment.

Chocolate Guinness Cake

110g butter or margarine
250g dark brown sugar
2 eggs
175g plain flour (1 generous cup)
Pinch baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
200ml Guiness
55g cocoa (generous ½ cup)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and line 20cm round cake tin.

Cream butter and sugar in medium bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. The recipe says to sift flour, baking powder and baking soda together three times but I never sift flour if I can help it.

Mix together Guinness and cocoa in a separate small bowl or jug. It makes a wonderful muddy sludge. The recipe says it might foam a lot so I was a bit disappointed not to get much foam. Add this mixture to the butter and sugar mixture alternatively with the flour. The mixture will be quite moist and light..

Bake in oven 45 minutes or til a skewer comes out cleanly. Cool in tin 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool. It is a moist cake that can be served dusted with icing sugar, with cream and shaved chocolate or with a chocolate ganache. (Nigella even does a cream cheese frosting).

On the Stereo:
Sound of White: Missy Higgins

Sunday 17 June 2007

Wee cakes for wee girls

Having a new gluten free cookbook and a visit to my gluten free sister, Susie, and niece, Grace, provided the perfect opportunity to try out a new gluten free recipe.

I decided to make some cupcakes. My sister Francesca wants mum and me to make cupcakes for her wedding and so we will want to make some gluten free cupcakes. Plus I know kids love cupcakes. My interest in cupcakes lately has been piqued by a number of new colourful cupcake cookbooks. One comment I read recently was that cupcakes are just any cake recipe baked as small individual cakes. What a liberating thought. So I took the Victoria Sponge Recipe and used it to make plain vanilla cupcakes.

I made them Friday night while I made the Guinness Chocolate Cake. I also had some new silicon mini muffin pans and wanted to try these out. I made one batch in cupcake papers, one in mini muffin papers and one in the silicon pans without papers. So I have estimated the baking time, because I was a wee bit distracted to take proper notice and it varied from batch to batch.

What I liked about the recipe is that it just is like an ordinary cake recipe with brown rice flour instead of wheat flour. Given my bad experiences with commercially prepared gluten free flour, I thought this an easy option. Although my mum says she has just used a gluten free flour for cupcakes and it has worked fine. Maybe this is due to us using different brands! Anyway, the cupcakes were excellent – E was most impressed by their lightness and asking me to bring him some home.

The real fun with cupcakes is icing them. My four young nieces were the icing team and I just was the coordinator, and take full responsibility for the brightness of the colours – I didn’t take as much care with adding colouring as I usually would. Quin and Maddy spread on the icing and Grace and Ella sprinkled the coloured chocolate bits on. We ended up with as many chocolate bits on the bench and the floor as on the cupcakes but it was lots of fun and they seemed to enjoy eating them almost as much (except Grace who doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth).

Gluten Free Cupcakes
(adapted from Louise Blair)

175g margarine or butter, softened
175g castor sugar
175g brown rice flour
3 eggs
1tbsp gluten free baking powder
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 180ºC. Put all ingredients in a bowl and beat til combined and smooth (or blend in a food processor). Spoon into min-muffin pans or cupcake pan. Made 18 mini muffins and 8 cupcakes. Bake 10-15 minutes til just golden brown and a skewer comes out cleanly. Cool on a rack and ice and decorate when cool.

On the Stereo:
Mozart Wind Concertos: Berliner Philharmoniker Karajan

Saturday 16 June 2007

Presto Pasta Night - Red Russian

Tonight Melbourne was unusually foggy. It was like a London pea souper. The mist made the almost naked elm trees along Royal Parade look spooky but it softened the harsh edges of the industrial landscape on the bike path by the railway and made Brunswick look like the set of a romantic old movie. It looked so lovely but is not really ideal for riding a bike.

So we needed some good thick comfort food tonight to ward off the winter chills. I bought some beetroot at lunchtime. Red is such a warming colour and it is worth having stained hands to see the vibrant ruby red of beetroots. I love their sweetness and their ability to take on other strong tastes. Once of my favourite juices is apple, carrot and beetroot. I love beetroot dip and roasted beetroot but decided it was time for new challenges. I liked the idea of the beetroot curry on lime and lycopenes (which Lucy linked to this week) but pasta seemed easier.

I used to make pasta a lot more but it can feel too much starch and stodge and not enough vegetables. Now I don’t make it much and, when I do, I am often being lazy and just do lots of veggies in the same water as the pasta and throw in a bottled sauce at the end. Probably also avoiding all those saucepans. I have no inclination to eat pasta day in day out but I don’t want pasta to drop off my radar altogether, either. Especially as I know it is always bound to please E.

Beetroot seemed an interesting idea. Beetroot makes me think borscht and vodka and Russian Cossacks in warm furry hats. Russian food seems just the thing for this weather. So I decided to try using my huge bottle of vodka that I bought duty free over a year ago and sat in the cupboard gathering dust. It is raspberry flavoured but I have made quite a few savoury meals with fruit recently so this didn’t seem a huge obstacle.

I have seen vodka in pasta recipes before but often it seems to go with a creamy sauce and I am not a big fan of those. So I did a quick search of the net to check if it was too outlandish to put it in a tomato based sauce that seemed quite alright – although I was a bit scared of a recipe suggested putting a flame to the vodka. So I took my inspiration for the sauce from borscht – beetroot, vodka, sour cream. I added some flavours depending on what needed to be used and what took my fancy. It was a great sauce – very smooth tasting with an intense tomato flavour and a sweet edge – and I do believe I could taste the vodka in there somewhere. E’s verdict was that it was unusual but very nice.

I think it was a bit too intense to eat without accompaniments. To serve I roasted some zucchini and Brussels sprouts in vodka, lemon juice, chopped garlic, salt and pepper at 230ºC for about 35 minutes. I also chopped and fried the leaves from my beets with some raspberry vinegar, mirin, chopped garlic and salt. Not sure about the beet leaves which I haven’t tried before but would like to try them with other accompaniments. They were a little bitter and as soon as I added the orange juice to the sauce I realised I should have kept it to fry the beet leaves in so might try this next time.

Red Russian Pasta
(serves 4)

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks of celery, diced
2 medium beetroots, peeled and diced
100g mushrooms, sliced
½ cup vodka (I used raspberry vodka)
450g tin of diced tomatoes
1 tsp veggie salt
2 bay leaves
Shake of allspice
2 tsp seeded mustard
Juice of one orange
¼ cup water
1/3 cup sour cream (optional - I used light sour cream)
1 dessert bowl of dried pasta (this is how I measure it but is quite approximate)

Heat oil in large saucepan. Fry onion and celery in oil about 15 minutes over low heat. Add beetroot and cook another 5 minutes on low heat. Add mushrooms and garlic. Turn heat up to medium and cook 10 minutes.

Add vodka and heat on high approximately 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the vodka is almost all evaporated.

Add remaining ingredients except sour cream. Bring to boil, cover and simmer for approximately 20 minutes over low heat. After about 10 minutes put pasta on to cook for about 10 minutes or til tender.

When beetroot is tender turn off the heat, remove the bayleaves and stir in the sour cream (if using). Drain pasta and mix with beetroot sauce. Serve hot with extra sour cream or cheese and roasted or steamed veggies or a salad.

I am entering this pasta dish into Presto Pasta Nights that Ruth hosts at Once Upon a Feast.

On the Stereo:
Angels in the Architecture: Various Artists

Thursday 14 June 2007

HotM #4: Deconstructed pumpkin hummus

Let me tell you how much I love pumpkin. It is one of the few vegetables I ate regularly as a child and still love eating often. It adds so much flavour and colour to casseroles, curries and soups, is fantastic roasted for a couple of hours with the skin on, and was part of my favourite childhood mash of potato, pumpkin, peas and vegemite!

Imagine how difficult I found it living in the UK where pumpkin seems to be wheeled out at Halloween for jack o’ lanterns and a laugh. I did a spot of work as a carer in a little village in Warwickshire (no shops and two buses out a week) where I had to order food in once a week and had very little to do other than watch the telly, walk down the high street of thatched cottages, and think about what to cook for dinner. How excited was I to find that the next door neighbour grew pumpkins! But he only grew them for his pigs and thought I was crazy to want to cook with them. Admittedly they were not a patch on a Queensland Blue or a Kent pumpkin but it was good to find one when they were so thin on the ground.

Last night I had a yen to eat pumpkin and tahini. E was out so I was free to experiment without worrying about what I might serve him or others. So I did a search on the net. Most recipes were pumpkin salad with tahini or pumpkin hummus. Delicious recipes for summer. Not right for a cold winter night. Then I found one called Pumpkin with Chickpea, Tahini and Onion which seemed interesting.

The recipe from Mary Laird Hamady's Lebanese Mountain Cookery, calls for the frying of batches of pumpkin in an inch of oil. It sounds like a great idea if I had the time and the metabolism. But I decided to just throw the pumpkin in with the onions and sort of stir fry which meant it was probably mushier than MLH intended – in fact I don’t think she would recognize the recipe. But I love pumpkin mash. And once I had finished it, I saw that it was a warm deconstructed pumpkin hummus.

I served it with shards of crisp pitta bread in memory of the fantastic dish I had at the Moroccan Soup Bar last month. It is a thick warming stew that sticks to your insides. So I was glad I had a ‘salsa’ with it to lighten the creamy sauce. It made it a little healthier too. Tahini is good for you with lots of calcium but it is too oily and rich to have in large quantities. But this is a flexible alternative to the usual tomato based stews – it could have less tahini and more seasoning to make it lighter and other vegetables could be used such as more mushrooms, cauliflower, or some beetroot.

The salsa is one I found in my recipe notebook which had strawberries, cucumber and mint but I thought I could just as easily use coriander to use up the bunch I bought for my TGRWT challenge. It is a sign of how little I buy coriander that I got it confused with flat leaf parsley and threw it in to my stew, thinking it smelt odd. Too much racing around the kitchen just before serving and thinking I had my bunches of herbs sorted out. I had to scoop it out because I didn’t want coriander in my nice stew. But I actually thought the coriander went well with the salsa.

Deconstructed Pumpkin Hummus with ‘Salsa’
Serves 4-6

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1,350g pumpkin, diced (approx 3 lb)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
200g button mushrooms, sliced
450g can chickpeas (or other white beans – I used cannelini beans)
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp chilli paste
½ tsp salt
⅔ cup tahini
⅔ cup cider vinegar (or lemon juice)
1 cup water
4 small wholemeal pitta breads (or rice)

- Preheat oven to 180ºC
- Heat oil in a large stockpot. Fry onion on medium low heat for 5 minutes.
- Add pumpkin, garlic, chickpeas and chilli paste and fry for 20 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently or til pumpkin just tender.
- Add mushroom and chickpeas and stir another 5 minutes.
- Add salt, tahini, vinegar, and water. Simmer about 10-15 minutes.
- While stew is simmering, put pitta breads in the oven for 15-20 minutes til crisp (I had mine in for 15 minutes and they were crisp outside but the middles could have crisped up a bit more but I worried the outer edges would be too crisp). When done, chop or break into pieces.
- Divide pitta bread pieces between 4 bowls. Spoon pumpkin stew over pitta bread. (For a gluten free version serve with rice.) Top with Strawberry and Cucumber Salsa (see recipe below) or steamed green vegetables

Strawberry and Cucumber Salsa
Half telegraph cumcumber, diced
12 large strawberries, diced (approx 150-200g)
50g baby spinach leaves, thinly sliced
1 tbsp fresh coriander or parsley or mint, finely chopped
Raspberry vinegar to drizzle

Toss vegetables together. Drizzle with vinegar

On the Stereo
Best of Roxy Music – Roxy Music

I am submitting this to the Heart of the Matter which is being hosted by Joanna’s Food in June. This month’s theme is vegetables.

Wednesday 13 June 2007

Gluten Free Cornbread

After a long weekend of cooking, I was pleased to have leftovers for dinner on Monday but I felt an extra something was needed. But something simple.

My sister, Susie, has recently started a gluten free diet after a coeliacs disease diagnosis so I have been on the lookout for gluten free recipes. After some time browsing the stores, I have purchased a new cookbook called Great Gluten Free Baking: over 80 delicious cakes and bakes, by Louise Blair. It has some excellent recipes I am dying to try out.

One recipe seemed right for the dinner – a quick savoury cornbread. I have made cornbread before without flour but I have found that the polenta can be a bit dry without flour. This recipe uses mostly polenta but also chickpea flour. I am still investigating different gluten free flours. The commercial mixture I bought had the squeakiness of cornflour and hasn’t held together well. But I like the binding quality of chickpea flour so thought it was worth a try.

I had a similar recipe from another book which I ended up using. The main difference seemed to be that the one I used made a loaf about half the size. Smaller suited me. I made a few changes – added some parsley and cheese, but mostly followed the recipe, which was pretty easy. It was a nice accompaniment to our leftover stew from the weekend (yes I added strawberries from my TGRWT challenge - and dill pickle - to the pierogi filling from last night).

Not the best cornbread ever, but pretty good. Makes me wonder if I could try other cornbread recipes and substitute chickpea flour for wheat flour. The search will continue.

Gluten Free Cornbread
(adapted from Gluten Free Food by Lyndel Costain and Joanne Farrow)

100g (scant ⅔ cup) fine cornmeal
75g chickpea flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg
25 g butter melted
250ml milk or yoghurt (full fat or semi skimmed)
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp chopped parsley
Chilli flakes, to taste
⅔ cup grated cheese

Lightly oil and line a 500g loaf tin. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. The batter will be very thin. Pour into the loaf tin. Bake in oven at 200ºC for 25-35 mins til just firm (Actually I baked it at 170ºC for 15 minutes and when I checked it looked so uncooked I put the temperature up to 200 for the next 25 minutes). The recipe also recommended leaving the loaf in the tin 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack but we were ready to eat so I turned it out and cut it up straight away and it was fine – eat hot or cold

On the stereo:
Bellavista Terrace Best of the Go-Betweens – Go Betweens

Monday 11 June 2007

TGRWT#3 Berry Good Guacamole

I am a big fan of the blog event that Martin at has recently started called They Go Really Well Together. Martin seeks out compatible but unusual ingredients, based on scientific reasoning that is interesting but a bit beyond me. This month Evelin at Bounteous Bites is hosting and the challenge is to bring strawberries and coriander together. This is my entry.

Strawberries often seem the plain Jane of berries – not as exotic or sharp as some of their berry cousins. But they often provide good honest refreshment on a cake or pavlova and they are look so pretty. I never appreciated how good they could be till I lived in the UK where they have an intense sweetness I never find in our Melbourne strawberries.

Fresh coriander is more of a challenge for me. It looks great but I just can’t understand its recent popularity because it tastes like soap to me. I use the dried variety at times but avoid it fresh. But strawberries seem best suited to the fresh green leaves and so I decided it was time to face the hip young herb that has everyone talking.

What to make? I saw a sweet strawberry soup months ago but threw away the magazine. Martin suggested rice paper rolls, salsa and muffins. Sounded good. Then I was inspired as I washed my hair with my strawberry shampoo and avocado conditioner yesterday morning. I remembered Eat’n Veg’n’s recent love of this combination and the pieces fell into place. Holy guacamole Batman! Oh yes! I love putting finely chopped tomato in guacamole so the small red pieces appear like jewels in the bright green dip. But instead of tomato, I would put in strawberries, and add some coriander.

It is not strawberry season in Melbourne and I had to try it before I could organize myself to get to one of our fine markets. The supermarket was selling Californian strawberries for $8 a 375g punnet! So I felt slightly better, but not much, to find a punnet of Australian strawberries for $5. Still felt like daylight robbery. Especially as they were not delicate small sweet berries but monsters that would look at home in one of the B-grade sci-fi movies E loves so much.

The guacamole was great – the sweet succulence of the strawberries contrast nicely with the creaminess of the avocado and the coriander adds an interesting flavour – but still seems a little soapy! I think I could have had even more berries in it next time. And it was spicy thanks to a chilli pepper grown by my sister-in-law Miriam. Most delicious on toast with sauerkraut (thanks Lucy for the suggestion).

Berry Guacamole

Flesh of 1 avocado, mashed
2 large strawberries, finely chopped
1 tbsp coriander, finely chopped
Juice of ½ a small lemon
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
1 medium garlic clove, crushed
4 pepperberries (or peppercorns), ground
1/4 tsp raspberry vinegar
Pinch salt

Mix all ingredients.

On the Stereo:
The Hill for Company: Sodastream