Thursday 31 January 2008

Good cake, Bad cake

My baking seems to be either wildly decadent or virtuously healthy. Earlier this week I baked a cake for my birthday that is so rich I consider it an extravagance. Then I couldn’t resist trying out a brownie recipe that took my fancy because it is low fat, gluten-free, vegan, nut-free, soy-free. I am sorry to report to dieters, celiacs, vegans and all other allergy sufferers, that the cake laden with butter, cream, nuts, eggs, chocolate, condensed milk, flour and sugar was easily the better cake!

This walnut fudge cake is a recipe that I wrote down years ago and finally made more recently. It was so good, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t tried it earlier. For the past few years I have made it for my birthday. Birthdays provide an excellent excuse for such indulgence. It is a cake for sharing and I am sending it to Bindiya for her My Favourite Things event which this month is focusing on baking cakes and muffins.

The cake batter tastes so good I could eat it without baking. But it tastes even better when it comes out of the oven. I don’t bother making sure it is cooked properly after baking it. In fact, I think it is better if it isn’t quite cooked. A small slice of this gooey fudgy nutty cake should be so soft it will collapse in your hand. It is so rich but I love it plain. Others seem to want it with cream, so I consider it a bonus that the recipe leaves me with leftover cream to serve it with. I also love having the remainder of a tin of condensed milk to use up in all sorts of wonderful recipes (grubs, condensed milk fudge sauce, mock turtle, etc).

It is a cake that tastes much better than it looks. It is the sort that cracks and sinks in the middle. When I placed the cake on the plate, E asked when I would ice it. My little niece Maddy, was reluctant to even try it without icing. She did try it but didn’t fancy it. In fact, even my little niece Ella who loves almost anything I bake, didn’t finish her piece. So I don’t think that this is a cake for kids. I think it might be due to the strong taste of all the walnuts. The cake was the star of the afternoon tea I made for my birthday. I also made cheesy almond muffins(some with faces of poppy seed hair, olive eyes, sunflower seed noses and sundried tomato mouths), grubs, gluten free grubs, grapes, chilled apple green tea, and activist mommy’s beanie brownies.

Last year I tried the walnut fudge cake with gluten free flour and it was disappointing. Maybe that is why it tasted so good this year. This is why generally it is best to find new gluten free ways rather than just trying to remake old favourites (with the exception of grubs).

I was excited to find the beanie brownie recipe that seemed to be the gluten free cake I have been seeking – easy to make, using only basic pantry ingredients, no nuts and delicious. This recipe was so simple – just 400g kidney beans, 2 bananas, 3 tbsp oil, 4 tbsp cocoa, 1 tsp vanilla, ¾ cup sugar, in the blender and then baked for 30 minutes in a moderate oven. The cake batter tasted good and I was hopeful. But when cooked it tasted like a sweet bean paste with chocolate flavour – it was neither cakey or fudgy. My mum and my sister Susie tasted it and refused to take any home with them. The kids weren’t interested. I think I will throw the rest of it in the bin.

Where did it go wrong? It looked good – dark, glossy chocolatey. But it was quite flat and had a sort of slimy dampness about it. Was the 28 x 18 cm slice tray too big for the mixture? Were my beans wrong? I used kidney beans rather than black beans. I also used a standard 400g tin of beans because activist mommy didn’t give a measurement for a tin of beans. Should I have included some apple sauce like activist mommy did? Would it make a difference if I tried it with 3 eggs instead of banana? Did it need to be cooked longer?

I still have hope and will continue my quest. After all, Have Cake Will Travel has said they were a definite winner and her photo of her brownies looks so tempting. But it has made me appreciate that no matter how healthy you make your cake, the ultimate measure of whether a cake is good or bad is the taste! After all, if you were just after something nutritious, you would just make a salad!

Update: I remade the Walnut Fudge Cake in early 2021 and took some new photos - they are the first two photos.  This is a cake that does not need frosting or a glaze but it looks rather plain.  It looked quite pretty with some berries, little pansies and mint leaves.

Walnut Fudge Cake

¾ cup lightly packed brown sugar
150g butter or margarine
100g dark chocolate
½ cup condensed milk
200g (2 cups) walnuts, coarsely ground
¼ cup cream
¾ cup self raising flour
1 egg

Grease and line a 20cm cake tin. Preheat oven to 170 C.

Place sugar, butter chocolate, condensed milk and walnuts in large bowl and melt on medium power in microwave (about 1½ minutes) or heat gently in saucepan til all is melted and thickens slightly. Remove from heat (it should be lukewarm still, if not you should cool it slightly) and add cream, flour and egg. Stir to combine.

Pour mixture into cake tin. Bake 40-45 minutes. Don’t worry if skewer not quite clean when you test it – it should be a little gooey inside. Cool in tin for 5- 10 minutes and turn onto a wire rack to cool. Serve in thin wedges with cream (if desired).

On the stereo:
A story to tell: Starbucks presents powerful songs from the coffee house: Various Artists

Wednesday 30 January 2008

Gorgeous Grubs

Grubs have many aliases – biscuit snowballs, rumballs, truffles. But in my family we have always called them grubs. I don’t even know why. They are embarrassingly easy to make and even easier to eat. They are best eaten fresh and gooey at room temperature. They leave behind a trail of coconut and happiness.

My childhood was full of these grubs and I have made them regularly throughout my life – very few recipes I can say that of! They have been there at school camp, midnight feasts, cake stalls, birthday parties, funerals. These days, when I make them they make me think of children that have been part of my life. Even to make them in an empty kitchen fills the space with ghostly children’s footsteps and laughter.

Once I made them to fight a bout of home sickness while living in London. I was living with a snooty cat at the time. When I put out my plate of fresh grubs, he stretched himself out to lie over them. I yelled at the cat but still had to throw out the top row and many more – I probably should have thrown them all out but I was in desperate need of comfort. The cat, of course, knew exactly what he was doing. He looked very pleased with himself and I soon moved to flats where I was happier!

Last year when Wendy asked for idiot proof recipes for her school fete, I suggested she make grubs and she reported back that they turned out perfectly. This is a recipe to make when you are lacking energy and motivation, when you have kids helping in the kitchen, when you need to get together a plate of food in a hurry.

I can’t claim they are healthy but they taste so good. Sweet soft chocolatey balls of comfort and fun. I have previously experimented with gluten free grubs with little joy. I found some success with substituting ground almonds for marie biscuits. But grubs are kiddie food and nuts are unwelcome at kids parties these days, so I didn’t feel this was too useful. I have heard of people substituting rice cookies for marie biscuits. However, as my gluten free niece was among the kids I made them for this weekend, I decided to try just leaving out the biscuits and adding more coconut. This simple solution was surprisingly successful.

If you are not in Australia, Arnotts Marie biscuits are like rich tea biscuits in UK and plain cookies in USA. The recipe below is very flexible – I don’t use a recipe so it varies each time but just in case others haven’t come across it, I thought I should put some approximate measurements.

Mansi has asked for suggestions for simple but delicious recipes for a stress free game night. The last time I watched sport with a group around the television was when Geelong won the Grand Final last September, which was a happy moment. I don’t often watch sport but, when I do, I need simple comfort food. That is why I am sending some grubs through the ether to Mansi who has requested favourite simple and quick to make recipes for her Game Night Party. In the recipe, I have written a short method for those who just want to get on with it and watch the sport, and a long method for those (like me) who prefer to be talking about the food than concentrating on goals, wickets and volleys.


1 x 400g tin of sweetened condensed milk
2-3 generous dessert spoons of cocoa, or as required
½ - 1 cup dessicated coconut, or as required
about ¾ of a 250g packet of marie biscuits (leave out for GF grubs)
Extra coconut to coat grubs

The short method:
Crush biscuits, mix all ingredients and roll walnut sized balls in coconut.

The long method:Firstly, crush the biscuits. There are a number of ways to do this, many being good for releasing stress. The best ways are to either place them in a paper bag and bash them with a rolling pin or place them in a bowl and crush with a rolling pin, a glass or a tin of beans (but watch for flying crumbs if you try the latter!). Sometimes I use a rolling pin in a bowl to crush the larger pieces of biscuit after bashing them in a paper bag. They should be crumbs not powder. It is possible to grind them in a food processor but not advisable because it means the grubs lack texture. A friend once sat on the biscuits to crush them so it is really up to you what works!

Mix crushed biscuits, cocoa, coconut, and condensed milk in a medium mixing bowl. It will still be quite soft but stiff enough to make balls. You need to use a little judgement on how many crushed biscuits to include. If it is too soft, add another biscuit or two. Do not add the whole packet at once or you may find it is too dry. At this point it is good enough to eat, and always takes some self-control to roll it into balls rather than eating it. But the coconut coating does add a certain pleasing crunchiness.

Place extra coconut in a dessert bowl. You will probably need about a cup of coconut. Use a teaspoon to scoop out spoonfuls the size of walnuts. Roll into neat balls with your hands and toss in coconut to coat. By the end of this activity, you will find that the coconut has little bits of coconut covered mixture in it and your fingers are covered with mixture. If you have been dying to eat the mixture, this is your chance – eat it off your fingers.

Store in an airtight container for at least a few days if you can keep them that long. Some people keep them in the fridge but I like them soft and prefer keeping them out of the fridge.

Gluten Free Option:
If you are making some of these for those with a gluten free diet, mix the cocoa, coconut and condensed milk together first. Put some of this mixture aside and add more coconut to make a stiff mixture and then make balls to roll in coconut. Then add crushed biscuits to the remaining mixture, being careful not to add too many that it is really dry. Or just make them all gluten free with extra coconut and don’t add biscuits to any of the mixture.

Update (Feb 2012): I made GF grubs by substituting the marie biscuits with about 1/2 GF biscuits (a 125g packet of freelicious GF tea biscuits), about 1/4 sweet and salty popcorn ground in a food processor and about 1/4 ground almonds.  They worked really well.

On the stereo:
A Short Album about Love: The Divine Comedy

Monday 28 January 2008

Simple Substantial Salads for One

Q. Why did the lettuce blush?
A. Because it saw the salad dressing!

Yes, that is right! I think lettuce and salad dressing are a joke. Well not quite, but they can get in the way of a good salad. Lettuce can swamp a salad and salad dressing can be fiddly to make, full of oil and sits around in my fridge way too long!

Mollie Katzen did a great 'Pep Talk for Wilted Salad Eaters' in The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. This is my pep talk to remind me and any other wilted salad eaters that salads can be both easy and substantial without crowding them with lettuce, rice, pasta or potatoes.

Making simple salads for lunch has been a bit of a project for me this summer. The only disclaimer I make is that I ate these salads straight after preparing them. However, without lettuce, which wilts as soon as you look at it, I think they would probably last a few hours or overnight. But I am yet to try taking such salads to work. I started thinking about salads on a 35 C day after having eaten two breakfasts, and needing something light for lunch. Then I started recording what I ate.

You can probably tell that I am not keen on lettuce. I have never grown to love trendy new lettuces. There are moments when I crave a crisp iceberg but not too often - they go soggy too easily, and I have read that they don’t have much in the way of nutritional value. I started experimenting with these quick and easy salads when I lost quite a bit of weight a few years ago and wanted to lighten my diet. Eating more vegetables helped, and the best way was in a simple side salad. I have periods of being what Jeffrey Steingarten calls a ‘salad glutton’, ie someone who eats salad more than twice a week in winter or four times a week in summer.

So below are records of my salads that I have been eating this summer, plus a few other salad ideas that I enjoyed and jotted down long before I was blogging. I have put lots of different combinations to demonstrate that it doesn’t really matter what you put in. But I realise they are still tailored to my personal taste – for example, I don’t put radish, fennel or bolied eggs in my salads. So you may need to experiment with what makes you happy. I have mostly loved these salads but there was one (not recorded) full of grated raw zucchini that was so awful I had to bin it.

Salad is a great way to use up bits and pieces from your fridge and fruit bowl. I love fruit in my salads for taste and to make sure I am getting enough fruit in my diet, especially on days when I feel less inclined to eat fruit. You can add any raw vegetables, leftover roast vegies, marinated or pickled vegetables (such as sun dried tomatoes or dill cucumbers), herbs, olives, seeds, beans, nuts, fruit, sprouts. For the dressing, it is easy to add a spoonful or two of cottage cheese, yoghurt, fruit juice, vinegar, tahini etc. And all you need is a chopping board, a sharp serrated knife, a bowl and a spoon (with the occasional grater, frypan or small mixing bowl for dressing).

These salads are mostly made to serve one person. Sometimes I eat it with a slice of bread or dry biscuits and dip (and it would be good with rice cakes or rice crackers if you are looking for something gluten free). It makes me feel much better than a sandwich and I feel less guilty having a piece of chocolate cake after such a salad (I never said my diet was perfect!). These salads would also easily serve two people as a side dish to accompany burgers, pizza or nutloaf. For other salad ideas, check out my index near the top of the right hand menu.

Crunchy Summer Salad IMix: 1 inch of cucumber, diced, 1 tomato, diced, 1/3 cup crunchy sprouts, few basil leaves, torn, ½ ripe pear, diced, ½ carrot, grated, juice of ¼ lemon, freshly ground black pepper, 1 tsp linseeds (flax seeds)

Crunchy Summer Salad II
Mix: 1 inch of cucumber, diced, ½ tomato, diced, 1 mushroom, diced, 1 nectarine, diced, ¼ red pepper, diced, small handful chopped baby spinach, small handful snowpea sprouts, 1 tbsp toasted sunflower seeds, 1 tsp toasted sesame seeds, juice of ½ lime.

Crunchy Summer Salad III

Mix: 1 diced tomato, 1 diced nectarine, 3 finely chopped stalks of asparagus, 6 sliced snowpeas, small handful of sliced baby spinach, small handful of snowpea sprouts, 1 inch of diced cucumber, 1 tbsp sliced black olives, juice of ¼ lemon, 1 tbsp yoghurt

Crunchy Summer Salad IVMix ½ diced tomato, few leaves basil, 6 sliced snowpeas, handful of sliced baby spinach, small handful snowpea sprouts, 1 inch diced cucumber, ¼ green capsicum diced, ½ large dill pickle diced, ½ carrot grated. Add 1 tsp tahini whisked with the juice of half an orange. Sprinkle with black pepper.

Crunchy Summer Salad V
Mix ¼ green pepper, diced, 1 diced roma tomato, 1 inch cucumber, diced, ½ stalk celery, diced, ¼ avocado, diced, small handful of green seedless grapes, small handful of roughly chopped spinach and rocket, 1 tbsp raspberry vinegar.

Fragrant Potato Salad
Dice and cook two medium potatoes. Mix with ½ red capsicum chopped, ½ green capsicum chopped, ¼ cup chopped sundried tomatoes (drained of oil), 1 tbsp chopped chives, 1 tbsp chopped mint, finely grated lemon zest of ½ a small lemon, 1-2 tsp of wholegrain mustard, 2 tbsp yoghurt.

My Rabbity Salad (adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook)
Mix ½ carrot grated, ½ cup crunchy sprouts, ½ capsicum, diced, 1 small nectarine, diced, ¼ - ½ tsp capers, ½ large dill pickle, diced, ¼ cup cottage cheese, 1 tsp poppy seeds, juice of ¼ lemon, seasoning, few drops Tabasco sauce.

Blushing Rabbit Salad
Mix 1 beetroot, peeled and grated, 1 orange, peeled and finely chopped, 1 spring onion, finely sliced, 100ml cottage cheese, 1 tbsp hazelnuts, roughly chopped (or other nuts such as walnuts or pecans), 1 tbsp sultanas, 1 tsp pomegranate molasses (or balsamic vinegar). On top, place a handful each of snowpea sprouts and chopped baby spinach squeezed with lemon juice.

Other Good Salad Combinations:

- Tomato, nectarines, grated carrot, cucumber, snowpeas, shredded baby spinach, dill pickle, balsamic vinegar
- Mushroom sundried tomatoes, avocado, cucumber, snowpeas, shredded baby spinach, lemon juice
- Beans, tomato, cucumber, corn, shredded baby spinach, fetta, parsley, lemon juice
- Roast pumpkin, spinach, olives, capsicum, lemon, yoghurt, tahini
- Potato salad – potato, asparagus, olives, sundried tomatoes, baby spinach, lemon juice, yoghurt, garlic
- tomato, green capsicum, grated carrot, brown lentils, chopped smoked almonds

On the Stereo:Rough Trade post punk vol 1: various artists

Stuffed Pears - in the swag

As I mentioned in my previous post, it was Australia Day yesterday. It makes me ruminate on our national cuisine, and – more to the point – do we have one? Last year I wrote about our sweet foods. Even harder is thinking about national savoury foods. If I were to mark Australia Day I would need to find traditional savoury food. So what do we have?

Firstly I thought of the great Aussie barbecue. I have written before about a vegetarian at a bbq so I wont bore you again with hardluck stories. But isn’t it interesting that when we think bbq in Australia, blokes come to mind. I’m thinking Kel Knight and his sausages, Paul Hogan and his shrimp on the barbie, and Sam Kekovich carrying on like a lamb chop. We've all seen an Everyman charring the chops, downing a coldie and wearing his ridiculously humourous apron. One would think his missus was swanning about with nothing to do!

What about the women? Naomi Watts shot to fame playing the teen girl who would prefer a roast lamb dinner than a date with Tom Cruise. We have great female cookbook writers in Australia like Margaret Fulton, Maggie Beer, Stephanie Alexander, Julie Stafford and the lovely vegetarian Vikki Leng. But what food is quintessentially Australian? What dish would they recommend for Australia Day? As with sweet food, it seems that there is no easy answer because so many of our traditions are bound up with all the nations from whence our population has migrated.

Growing up in Australia for me meant barbecued meat with garden salad, potato salad and buckets of tomato sauce; meat pies; roast dinners; chiko rolls and dim sims; corned beef; apricot chicken; tuna casserole; chow mien; and spag bol. I can’t remember any particular food we would have for Australia Day as a child but I do remember my parents buying green and gold plastic cups for a special lunch.

I no longer eat the meat I had to eat as a child. I can do a great vegetarian roast dinner and I have found excellent vegetarian dim sims at Northland shopping centre (for that nostalgic junkfood indulgence). But ask me about an Australian national dish and I am stumped.

So now I feel my cooking is more based on a British vegetarian cuisine than any Australian cuisine. Maybe the main legacy of my Australian heritage is the loose ties with our traditions that allow us to innovate, experiment and fuse cuisines, in a way that we might not if we had a cuisine to protect.

Dinner, rather than following any Australia Day traditions, was inspired by a challenge from Julia of the English blog, A Slice of Cherry Pie. She hosts In the Bag, an event which asks bloggers to cook a dish with nominated seasonal ingredients. This month is it pears, lemon and nuts. Pears aren’t really in season here but I thought I could do it, especially when I came across an intriguing recipe for pears stuffed with cheese and nuts in a 1970s cookbook by British writer, Marguerite Patten.

It is the sort of starter that I usually find more amusing than appetising. Many older vegetarian cookbooks are heavy with dairy and eggs, as if to prove that vegetarians can eat substantial meals. This attitude comes from a period before the wealth and abundance that we know today, a period when eating enough was more of a problem than eating too much. But it did fit the parameters set by Julia.

The stuffed pears were quite simple, although little things like cutting the core out of the pear took a little longer than I’d thought. I love pears au naturale and couldn’t quite bring myself to soak them in an oil and lemon mixture for 15 minutes before serving (and didn’t peel them either) – a squeeze of lemon juice was enough for me. But I am giving you the recipe as Marguerite intended it. I think if I was to make it again (and I would) that I might slice the pears rather than serving pear halves which looked good but were quite chunky. I served it for dinner with salad drizzled with an excellent raspberry vinaigrette. It was surprisingly pleasing!

Maybe it is fitting on Australia Day to eat food from our British heritage. There is a long tradition of doing so. I am not sure many people in Australia would be eating this sort of food today but I always imagine it was the height of sophistication in the 1970s. I like to imagine it might have been served as an appetiser by some of our national female icons of the era such as Margaret Whitlam, Lorraine Bayly and even Mrs Norm Everage before she became Dame Edna and an international superstar!

Stuffed Pears
(from Marguerite Patten, Vegetarian Cooking For You)
Serves 4

4 small pears or 2 large ones (I used packham pears)
2 tbsp salad oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Pinch sugar
150ml natural yoghurt
25 g walnuts (I used pecans)
175g cheddar cheese, grated (I used less than this)
50g sultanas (I used 2 tbsp)
Pinch cayenne or few drops Tabasco sauce
Shredded, lettuce, to serve (I used rocket and baby spinach)
Lemon or chives to garnish

Peel, halve and core the pears. Put into a dish. Blend oil, lemon juice, seasoning and a pinch of sugar. Pour over the pears and leave 15 minutes, turning once. (As said above I just halved and cored my pears and squeezed a bit of lemon juice over them.)

Mix the yoghurt, nuts, cheese, sultanas and cayenne or Tabasco sauce. Lift pears from dressing and arrange on a bed of lettuce leaves. Spoon yoghurt mixture over pears and garnish. Marguerite suggests a twisted lemon slice. I used black pepper and chives. Then I gave them another squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of raspberry vinaigrette (recipe below).

Raspberry Vinaigrette
(from Vikki Leng, Vegetarian Feasts)
Makes about ½ cup or 125ml

3 tbsp raspberry vinegar
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp honey
1 clove garlic, crushed

Place all ingredients in a screw top jar and shake to combine well.

On the Stereo:
Mojo Presents the Quiet Revolution – Various Artists

Sunday 27 January 2008

WBB: Tofu Scramble and Imposters

Imagine a foreigner coming to Australian shores and telling us how to be Australians. Oh, that’s right! That is what happened when the British invaded back in 1788. That’s what we commemorate on Australia Day which was yesterday!

For Australia Day I made us a special brunch. The night before I roasted vegetables and used some for a pasta meal. I was on track to make Café Flora’s Roasted Vegetable Tofu Scramble. The second part was to press the tofu for an hour in the fridge. This is the sort of instructions I expect from chefs who don’t cook in a home kitchen but some days obedience is the path of least resistance so I did as I was told. You can check out the pic of my tofu with a plate and three 400g tins on it (vegies are in the plastic container on the shelf above).

I can’t remember if I have made scrambled tofu before. I think I have but if I did it wasn’t memorable. So I wasn’t sure what to expect. I assume it originated to compensate for vegans being denied scrambled eggs, or (if you want to take the moral high ground) to show that there are better scrambles than eggs can offer. You might call it an imposter meal of soy posing as eggs.

This one was pretty good but it did need the vegetables to give flavour and light. I chose not to make Café Flora’s recommendation of ‘Fu Sauce’ which was quite Asian-style (tamari, mirin rice vinegar etc) and not something I can face first thing in the morning. I went for a more subtle flavouring more along the lines of Renee’s. I needed a good grinding of pepper over it. I probably could have also done with some soy sauce (so I have added it to the recipe). This might have improved the tofu which was a little on the bland side.

Don’t get me wrong. I love tofu. I can’t cope with it plain in a sandwich (as was once fed to me on a domestic flight with Ansett!) But it is so versatile and adds so much to many meals. In the Book of Tofu, it is said that East Asians call it the ‘meat of the fields’ or the ‘meat without a bone’. The authors also describe it as inexpensive, nutritious and the backbone of the meatless diet. I wouldn’t say it is the backbone of my diet but is one of the cogs that keep it going!

I find the idea of tofu scramble pleasing. I have never eaten scrambled eggs in my life. But being able to eat a scramble for brunch seems a way to feel a little normal. However, how would I know if it tastes anything like scrambled eggs. I asked E – an egg lover – what he thought. ‘I thought it was egg at first,’ he responded. That pleased me. And my reaction? All I can say is that it tasted good, but would egg-lovers really eat this sort of thing without vegies? But I guess for me to claim similarities to scrambled eggs is like Captain Arthur Phillip‘s soldiers telling the Aboriginal people how to live. It just aint my territory.

But that isn’t where my tales of imposters end. Perfect place to have Saturday morning brunch at home is in bed with the weekend newspapers which should land on your bed with a thud that speaks of papers stuffed with news, magazines and supplements. Yesterday was our first day ordering the paper to be delivered on weekends. My excitement turned to dismay as I rushed outside in the morning to pick up The Age, only to find they had sent the Hun. I was determined to eat while reading the newspaper so found some pieces from last weekend that I never got around to reading! Today we didn’t get any paper. So I am hoping next weekend the deliveries will finally yield a newspaper we can read over breakfast.

I am sending this to Rajitha at Hunger Pangs who is hosting Weekend Breakfast Blogging which was started by Nandita. This month the theme is soy and its by-products.

Roasted Vegetable Tofu Scramble
(adapted from Café Flora Cookbook)
Serves 2-3

2 cups of roasted diced vegetables (see Note)
250g firm tofu
2 tbsp chopped sun dried tomato
1-2 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
Squeeze of lime or lemon juice
Tabasco sauce, to taste
Soy Sauce to taste
Seasoning, to taste
1 tomato, diced (for garnish)
Chives, finely chopped (for garnish)

Place tofu on a plate or bowl and place plate or chopping board on top of tofu. Weigh down with tins of beans or other to weigh up to 3 pounds. Place in fridge for an hour and then drain water off. This seems overwhelming but if I can do it so can you and it will give a drier scramble if you like that. But if you are pressed for time and/or energy, I think it would be fine to skip this step. Alternately, you can do it the night before (according to the recipe).

Crumble tofu with your fingers or a fork. Heat a large non-stick fry pan on medium high. Spray with oil. Place tofu in frypan and only stir frequently for about 5 minutes so it browns. Reduce heat to medium low and add vegetables for about 5 minutes til warm. Add sundried tomatoes, yeast flakes, lime or lemon juice and seasoning and stir for another minute to warm. Serve on top of toast or fried potatoes with tomato and chives sprinkled on top.

NOTE: I roasted vegetables in some olive oil and crushed garlic for about 20 minutes at 220 C. See my roasted vegetable pasta for more information. Suggested vegetables include: zucchini, eggplant, capsicums, pumpkin, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potato, onion, carrot, beetroot, green beans, turnip, swede, fennel, mushrooms, asparagus. This can be done the day before you make the scramble.

On the stereo:
American Roots: a history of American folk music: Various Artists

Saturday 26 January 2008

In Praise of Cookbooks

Cookbooks become palimpsests, the original text overlaid with personal meanings and experiences, the spines broken by use and by the mass of extra matter forced between their pages.
Nicola Humble, Culinary pleasures: cookbooks and the transformation of British food

One of my summer projects has been to write up a list of my cookbooks. But I can’t post this list without a reflection on cookbooks. A few comments have stimulated my thoughts lately.

First there was Stephanie’s provocative comment on Elegant Sufficiency that it is just as easy to google a recipe idea as find it in her cookbooks, and that she doesn’t feel the need to purchase new cookbooks much these days. I understand what she is saying. I have my google days. But I also have days when I sit on the couch browsing through a stack of glossy cookbooks for a recipe I am seeking, or just for ideas. The suggestion that cookbooks might be obsolete seems as ludicrous to me as paperbacks being replaced by the online novels. Is there anyone who wants to sit in bed and read a novel off a laptop? Similarly, I prefer to have a cookbook open in front of me when I cook, rather than running back and forward to my laptop which keeps threatening to go to sleep.

Unlike Stephanie, I still see lots of cookbooks I want to purchase. I drool over new tantalising photos and inspiring ideas. But I am having a serious shelf crisis where my cookbooks are concerned and must be judicious in what I buy these days. That is the reason a lot of my cookbooks are vegetarian. While occasionally an omnivorous Nigella or a Nigel comes along who is so eloquent that I cannot resist their fine words, on the whole I cannot justify allocating precious space to meat recipes that I will never use. It isn’t just meat I avoid. A cookbook must be full of the sort of food I am likely to make – lots of different vegies in each dish, not too many eggs, and something a bit different to pique my interest.

So many new cookbooks have the same old recipes that I know I can find in a dozen of my cookbooks at home. When I first was cooking for myself, I needed the basics, but now I have these in all guises. Cookbooks are no longer about making sure I have something to cook. They are about inspiring and challenging me. So now I want something a bit quirky and esoteric. I want a new take on an old favourite. I want depth and personality. So where do I find them? Not necessarily in a glossy display case or on the sale table. My cookbooks have come to me as birthday presents, impulse purchases, gifts from people cleaning out cookbook collections, holiday souvenirs, recommendations by friends, and finds at secondhand bookshops.

The other comment which made me think recently was by Heidi at 101 Cookbooks who said how much she loves Rose Eliot cookbooks but finds them hard to find. It meant that when I saw the Rose Eliot Zodiac Cookbook in a second hand bookshop recently, I came home and googled it. I was surprised to find it is out of print. So I bought it. In fact, I was shocked at how many of her books are out of print. Heidi made me understand that you shouldn’t take some of these cookbooks for granted.

In fact I was looking for a book at Melbourne’s fantastic Books for Cooks the other week. (As an aside, this is an amazing place for the culinary bibliophile – two rooms crammed with every sort of foodie book you could imagine. Now this is a shop where I need to exercise great self-restraint!) I was surprised that the book was out of print, given that it came out in 2000. They go out of print quickly, I was told. While there, I bought a few older cookbooks and found that they really give a sense of a period in history. So I am starting to really appreciate my cookbooks and that they are part of a history, a tradition, a culture.

I have also had some cookbooks long enough now that they indeed are ‘overlaid with personal meanings and experiences’. Ricki at Diet, Dessert and Dogs recently wrote about food being linked with her memories. Browsing through my cookbooks is a trip down memory lane. Certain recipes bring back meals, faces, places, events. The Australian Women’s Weekly Old-Fashioned Favourites is full of sweets (desserts) my mum used to bake in my childhood. Alison Holst, Mollie Katzen and Sarah Brown remind me of share house days. Rose Eliot is the writer I depended on when I lived in Edinburgh. Colin Spencer and Denis Cotter feed my current interest in food writing (and apologies for including a Nigel Slater library book in a photo but I can guarantee it will appear on my list of cookbooks imminently). These books are as full of nostalgia as old photo albums.

But unlike photo albums, my cookbooks also are full of unfulfilled desires, recipes I’ve lusted over many times and yet never cooked. I hope this list will encourage me to use all my cookbooks more fully. I have toyed with the idea of writing the most desirable recipes beside each title to remind me of recipes I must try. Maybe!

I have to make a disclaimer for the list not being quite as I had envisioned. There are times when attention to detail is a curse. I know where the list needs work but so far have lacked the energy. I have split the list into categories but they seem a little arbitrary. I also struggled with what I included and excluded, especially in the Food for Thought section. I tried to limit the list to books that included recipes I might follow, which is why Vic Sussman is in and Jeffrey Steingarten and Barbara Kingsolver are out. But this is all a work in progress and I hope it will develop.

Lastly, I am recognising that blogs are more than just a day by day record of what was cooked last night. I want this blog to be a resource for me, for family and friends, and for all my visitors. A list of cookbooks appeals to the curious curtain twitcher in me. But I hope this list will also be useful both for those who want to source vegetarian cookbooks and for those who want to see where I find recipes and inspiration.

On the stereo:
The Essential Klaus Schulze 72-93: Klaus Schulze

PPN #48 Roasted Vegetable Pasta

Every year I mean to celebrate Burns Night and it passes me by. The timing is always awkward. January means recovering from the festive season and then celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, and Australia Day. So I didn’t make haggis as I intended but if you want to get into the spirit you can see Wendy’s photo of a haggis in the wild and Sophie’s photo of the famed McSween’s vegetarian haggis.

However, my dinner last night did have tenuous links to Scotland. It is a recipe I found while living in Edinburgh. It was an odd time in my culinary adventures. We rented a furnished flat which included a basic equipped kitchen, but we only had a bar fridge (no freezer!) and most of my cookbooks and lovely kitchen things were in boxes in Australia. So my cooking often had a necessary simplicity. Although, by the time I moved back home to Melbourne, I had acquired many kitchen implements and crockery.

Cooking in Scotland was made easier by the freebie magazines that abound in the UK. Many of the large supermarkets had free glossies with fine recipes, and Tescos did a vegetarian magazine which I would buy for a pittance. Plus I would find many great recipes in the newspapers and other foodie magazines.

I don’t remember which magazine I got this recipe from but it requires very little in the way of condiments and energy. It is a dish that I have made many times and always enjoyed. But I realised when I made it last night that I really only use the recipe as a guide. I am so lackadaisical with measurements that I have reproduced the original ingredients here but I encourage any interested reader to relax and innovate with this recipe.

While the recipe calls for just courgettes and peppers, I used lots of vegetables last night. I partly made it because I wanted roast vegetables to make brunch this morning. So I used lots of interesting vegies. My brother-in-law Steve, had given me a gorgeous variegated Thai eggplant, and I had found some cute miniature zucchinis (or courgettes). I also had onion, asparagus, red pepper, green pepper, mushroom and squash for lots of varied colours and flavours.

I am sending this recipe to Ruth at Once Upon a Feast for this week’s Presto Pasta Night.

Roasted Vegetable Pasta
Serves 4

- 2 courgettes and 1 pepper cut into sticks (or any vegetables you fancy roasting such as pumpkin, aubergine, asparagus, sweet potato, mushrooms)
- 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 300g dried pasta shells
- 200ml low fat crème fraiche or yoghurt
- 2 tsp wholegrain mustard
- 85g cheddar cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 220 C. Place vegetables and garlic in a roasting tin. Drizzle with oil, season and toss to coat evenly. Roast for 15-20 minutes until the vegetables are tender and beginning to brown.

While vegetables are roasting, cook the pasta and drain. Return drained pasta to saucepan and stir in vegetables, crème fraiche (or yoghurt which is what I always use), mustard and cheese.

On the stereo:
Soundtrack to Priscilla Queen of the Desert: Various Artists

Friday 25 January 2008

Deep purple juice

Days ago I was in one of the larger bookstores in town and found myself sitting on a stack of Gordon Ramsay cookbooks (at last I have found a use for them!) being offered samples of mango and passionfruit juice and browsing through a selection of tempting cookbooks. This was where I stumbled across this great recipe.

Now I have probably told you once too often that I come across recipes while browsing in stores but in my defence, I buy books in these stores too – I add to their profits rather than just treating them as a library. These recipes are merely found in the honest pursuit of a purchase.

Having justified myself, I can now tell you it was actually more a great idea than a recipe – just a great combination of fruits for a deep dark berry-laden fruit juice. I don’t have a juicing machine so it suited me that it is just a matter of giving it a burl in my food processor. It was so thick I felt a spoon could probably stand up in it but it was absolutely delicious – a combination of some of my favourite fruits. I tried to water it down with soda water but it doesn’t work – maybe some yoghurt or tofu might be nice but I didn’t fancy a creamy taste and would recommend sticking to the fruit.

However, be warned (especially if you are experiencing a Northern hemisphere winter) that this is a very seasonal drink. I meant to be patient and wait til I was at a market but then in a fit of whimsy I just bought the ingredients at the supermarket and I worked out it cost me about $12 to make this. But it cheered me up.

Not only does this juice satisfy and delight but I knew it must be good for me so I checked the fruits and found it was. Raspberries, blueberries and cherries were featured in Sweetnicks’ top 20 Antioxidant Rich Foods. This superjuice is likely to protect you from cancer, Alzheimer ’s disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, allergies, gout etc etc. And take a look at all the nutrients:

- blueberries - high in fibre, Vitamin C, Vitamin K and manganese.

- cherries - good source of dietary fibre and Vitamin C. They also contain a variety of vitamins and minerals including Vitamin A, Vitamin K, calcium and iron.

- red grapes - good source of Vitamin C and Vitamin K.

- raspberries – rich in Vitamin C, manganese and dietary fibre. Also contains considerable amounts of B vitamins 1-3, folic acid, magnesium, copper and iron.

Finally, after a bike ride, it is a veritable treat to sit in the sun in the backyard, reading excerpts from Nigel Slater’s new book in the Observer Food Monthly (which my sister in Dublin sent to my mum) and drink this pleasing juice.

I am sending this recipe to Cate at Sweetnicks for her ARF/5 A Day Tuesday which encourages bloggers to share antioxidant rich recipes.

Deep Purple Juice
(from The Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook)
Serves 1-2

1 cup blueberries
1 cup pitted cherries
½ cup seedless red grapes
½ cup raspberries

Puree all ingredients in a blender or food processor.

On the stereo:
Apartment Life: Ivy

Thursday 24 January 2008

Raspberry Vinegar for Dummies

As garnet red as the stained-glass window behind the altar in St Stephen’s, the heady smell wafts up like wine’. What better way to start my yarning about raspberry vinegar than with this evocative description of glorious raspberry juice from Nigel Slater’s Toast!

Last summer I bought a bottle of raspberry vinegar at Abbotsford Convent’s Slow Food Market. It was fantastic and I loved drizzling it on salads. The sweet raspberry taste brought summer into our kitchen all year long. But this year I haven’t managed to go to the sorts of markets where they might sell it and I have a snowflake’s chance in hell of finding it in the supermarket. So, I thought, if Wendy can make it, so can I! And I did! It was a little intimidating so here are some copious notes for myself and for other novices.

I was interested in Wendy’s recipe but I wasn’t sure about lemon peel in it, not being a lemon lover. Then I saw another recipe that took my fancy because it had wine in it as well as vinegar. I scribbled down the recipe in a second hand bookshop while browsing and later I struggled to understand my hurried handwriting. So I kept Wendy’s recipe by my side for reassurance, and because she encourages shaking the raspberries in vinegar for fun! I also found a recipe in Vikki Leng’s Vegetarian Feasts to refer to.

Seeing the different recipes convinced me that the amount of vinegar and raspberries is up to individual fancy rather than having to follow strict guidelines. You could follow my recipe without the wine by reducing the amount of raspberries or increasing the vinegar, and not simmering the vinegar (eg Vikki used 1 punnet raspberries and 1 litre of vinegar).

I had almost enough vinegar but not quite enough so I looked for it in a local delicatessen. I was fascinated to see home made white wine vinegar. It was in an old beer bottle with ‘Home Made Wine Vinegar’ handwritten on a piece of masking tape and a cork in the top. Now, I know some people make their own raspberry vinegar and that is easy to understand. But I struggled to get my head around how you make your own white wine vinegar. I got blank looks when I asked in the shop so I checked Wikipedia which talked about acids, fermentation and vinegar eels. If I was more cynical, I might look more carefully at the word vinegar deriving from the Old French for ‘sour wine’. But, instead, I have visions of weird contraptions in some migrant’s backyard – a place covered with vine leaves and filled with noisy family get togethers.

The home made vinegar was quite sharp and Wiki says that better quality wine vinegars have a mature mellow flavour. I worried that my vinegar might not have been the best quality but then Wendy and Vikki Leng didn’t specify which vinegar to use so I felt reassured. And it felt fitting to be colluding with other home-based enterprises when embarking on my raspberry vinegar adventure.

Making raspberry vinegar was every bit as complex as I expected. I headed off to the Queen Vic Market to buy raspberries at a reasonable price. I bought some fruit juice in a wide necked bottle (which I decanted into another bottle) so I had a bottle I could easily pour in crushed raspberries– and secure the lid for lots of fun shaking it (thanks Wendy)! Vikki Leng suggested leaving it for 2 weeks which didn’t suit me as I had planned to make it so I could give it to my mum for her birthday, but it made me feel free to leave it for as many days as I needed. The instructions also said to leave it in a cool place which is difficult in a Melbourne summer so my only option seemed to be the fridge.

Then I came to straining it. I do not like straining – it is tedious and I hate having to throw out the remnants. So after stirring the raspberries in the sieve and then leaving them to drip for some time, I found that the only way to do it was to press the spoon down on the raspberries to squeeze out their juice (might be obvious to some but was a great discovery for me).

My recipe said to simmer 3 minutes which I didn’t see in other recipes and I presume it is to remove the alcohol from the wine. It resulted in a bit of scum which I skimmed off the top. Once I had done this I had to pour into my clean bottles, which sounds simple. But you need to be prepared. I suggest you have ‘sterilised’ bottles, a decent sized funnel and an apron – and a cloth to mop up any mess! (Also I wouldn’t recommend wearing light clothes but if you do, a pattern on them is useful to disguise stains – I speak from sorry experience!)

Now I was a little unsure about preparing the bottles. It seems that preserving is a dying art as it wasn’t easy to find advice in my cookbooks – finally I found something in a 1980s cookbook I recently found in a secondhand bookshop (Paul Southey ,1984, Gourmet Cooking with Meat: The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook ). He says to put jars for jams, jellies and preserve upside down on a baking sheet for 30 minutes at 130 C. I always worry when I have lids with plastic or rubber in this about what I do with them – probably a cork is the best option but how do you sterilise that. In the end I just washed and rinsed the bottles in hot water and am depending on the acidity of the vinegar to fight any germs! I poured in the hot liquid and put lids on immediately (as advised by Paul Southey). One more obvious comment: if the liquid is hot, is to make sure you leave a little room at the top of the bottle for it to expand when it cools. After I had finished I found that Nigella Lawson in How to be a Domestic Goddess also gives some helpful advice.

I had a little less than 3 x 250ml bottles. The vinegar is not sweet like the raspberry vinegar I bought last year but it does have a wonderful ruby red colour and smells of raspberries. I have given away two of the bottles to my mum and to Yarrow. I have used the vinegar a few times and no one has been rushed to hospital yet so this might be something I will do again! It has been an interesting adventure. But if I see raspberry vinegar on sale next summer I might be tempted to just buy a bottle.

Raspberry Vinegar
(from Patricia Mitchell in The Spirited Vegetarian)
Makes 2-3 cups

3 cups raspberries (3 punnets or 450g)
1 cup (250ml) white wine vinegar (or other vinegar)
¾ cup (175ml) medium sweet white wine

Crush the raspberries with a fork in a largish bowl (a shallow pasta bowl will do). Place in cool place for 1 to 14 days. I put mine in fridge. Shake occasionally if it makes you happy! Strain by pressing them in a sieve with the back of a spoon or straining through a muslin cloth and gathering the cloth to squeezing out the juice. Place in medium saucepan and simmer 3 minutes. If you strained through a sieve you now have the option of straining a second time, which will make the vinegar clearer – so it depends if you like cloudy or clear. Pour into clean (sterilised) bottle(s). It is now ready to use in salads, soups, cakes etc.

On the stereo:
Banter: a Candle Records Collection: Various Artists

Wednesday 23 January 2008

HoTM #11: Chunky Beetroot Soup with Kidney Beans

When I think beetroot soup, I usually think borscht, Russian peasants, snow and heavy stodgy food. But finally I have made this soup recipe which I found in the magazine supplement of one of the British broadsheets during a visit 2 years ago. It comes from Antony Worrell Thompson. I think it is from his book called Antony Worrell Thompson's GI Diet but that is just a hunch not a fact.

This is a lovely light soup that is just right for summer – it left me satisfied without feeling stuffed. Which is ironic as this recipe reminds me of being in Scotland in winter, of sitting in my in-laws loungeroom in front of the gas fire perusing the weekend papers while eating Cadbury Mini Rolls. I can’t resist tearing a recipe out of any newspaper when it takes my fancy. This recipe travelled back home in my suitcase and was finally written into my notebook. It was well worth the effort.

Whether in summer or winter, I recommend this soup as a starter or main meal – we ate it with olive bread one night and pumpkin and cumin bread the next. It was quite watery but had a lovely subtle flavour. The ruby beetroot colour is bright enough for summer cheer and deep enough to warm in winter. It was even redder and tastier the next day. I have written in my notebook that it is low GI and has 189 calories and 1g of fat per serving. This has to be good for you.

I am sending this soup to Joanna of Joanna’s Food for the regular Heart of the Matter event which aims to promote food which is heart-healthy. The focus in January is on soups.

Chunky Beetroot Soup with Kidney Beans
(from Antony Worrell Thompson)
Serves 6-8

2 onions, peeled and chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 large turnip or swede, peeled and chopped
1 large parsnip, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
500g beetroot (about 2 large), peeled and chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp fresh thyme*
4 tsp vegetable stock powder (I used Massel, he used a salt reduced stock cube)
400g potatoes (about 3 medium), diced
200g cabbage (about ¼ large cabbage)
410g tin of kidney beans, drained
1 tsp freshly ground pepper (I used pepper berries)
1 tbsp raspberry vinegar
150g yoghurt to serve
Fresh chopped herbs to garnish (I used chives, he used dill)

* I was posh and made a bouquet garni from my garden because I am tired of taking thyme leaves off the twigs – so I tied together a few sticks of thyme, a sprig of parsley and a bay leave and put them in the soup while it simmered, then removed before serving.

Place first 9 ingredients into large stockpot with 2 litres of water. Bring to the boil and reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Add potatoes, cabbage, beans and pepper. Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes til potatoes are tender. Stir in vinegar. Serve in large bowls with a dollop of yoghurt and a sprinkling of herbs.

On the Stereo:
Prism of Eternal Now: White Rainbow

Tuesday 22 January 2008

Pea and Garlic Soup

"Garlick maketh a man wynke, drynke and stynke"
Thomas Nash, 16th Century poet

Garlic is well known for its pungent smell and ability to repel vampires (and the above quote makes me think it could explain strange men hanging around nightclubs like a bad smell!). Some people find the smell repugnant. I once shared a house with a woman who insisted on using a garlic crusher because she swore she hadn’t been able to find a boyfriend when she had chopped it by hand and the smell got into her fingers. I have always been of the belief that if everyone eats lots of garlic you don’t notice it so much. And surely it is hard to avoid eating a lot of it a lot of the time!

Colin Spencer revels in garlic – ‘the smell I inhale like perfume, the aroma on others breath is a sign of life and its celebration.’ Not surprising coming from a man who says he has happily peeled 200 garlic clove for garlic soup. One can only assume that he didn’t eat it alone in one sitting!

One of the things I love about garlic is the way its flavour changes depending on how you prepare it. Roasted garlic is one of the loveliest ways to eat it, and the easiest. So I liked the idea of green pea and roasted garlic soup which I noticed in a Nigel Slater book while browsing in a bookstore recently. He had got the idea from Nigella so I checked How to Eat when I got home and, lo and behold, she had a recipe for a pea and garlic crostini. I basically made this and added stock. It is so simple it is embarrassing – barely a knife stroke involved and there is lots of time to relax in the backyard while it cooks.

Nigella delights in the brilliant colours which she describes as having a ‘day-glo vibrancy’. The bright green is so lovely that it seems a shame to eat it, but eat it we did with much enjoyment. Roasting mellows the sharp edges and intensifies the flavour of the garlic leaving it with a sweet pungency that enhances the peas. Served with pumpkin scones, the soup made a simple but very satisfying supper.

I am sending this recipe to Sunita of Sunita’s World for her Think Spice event which is all about Garlic in January.

Pea and garlic soup
(adapted from Nigella Lawson)
serves 2 (as dinner with bread or scones)

1 head of garlic
1 tsp olive oil
2 cups frozen peas
2 cups stock
Freshly grated parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper

Slice the top off the head of garlic so you have just nipped the top of all the cloves (or almost all of them). Place on a square of foil and drizzle with oil. Bring edges of foil together to make a bag that is sealed at the top with a twist. Roast in 200 C oven for about 30-40 minutes. (Nigella said 60 minutes but that was too long for me because the cloves were already starting to brown slightly by about 35-40 minutes.) Garlic cloves should be soft and easy to squeeze out of their skin. (Although, unless you have asbestos hands, you might want to cool it a little before squeezing cloves out.)

Place garlic cloves, peas and stock in small saucepan and bring to the boil. Use hand held blender to puree soup. Serve with some freshly grated parmesan cheese and black pepper.

Update October 2013: I noticed that in The Guardian Word of Mouth blog was linking to this post and was so mortified by the terrible photo that I have made the soup again today so I could update the photos.  It is less dayglo than the original due to some darker homemade vegie stock but every bit as delicious!  And check out The Guardian link for more information on garlic varieties.

On the Stereo:
Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music (promo sampler): Various Artists

Monday 21 January 2008

Heavenly Truffles and Mysteries

I have read a lot of detective novels over the past few months. I have made some great discoveries including a new series by a crime writer, Kerry Greenwood. I have previously enjoyed her series about a 1920s flapper detective (Phryne Fisher) and now started on the series about present day baker-cum-detective (Corinna Chapman). The most recent book I read was Heavenly Pleasures. The title is also the name of a chocolate shop and Corinna must find out who is poisoning the chocolate delicacies – although there are messianic complexes, bombs, murders and lost kittens along the way!

I love a novel that lingers lovingly over food and then gives you the recipes at the end. But I want to share with you my favourite lines from the book. Corinna spends a lot of time thinking and talking about chocolates and muses, ‘How had a paste made of crushed cocoa-beans become so important? How had a bitter bean come to mean comfort, reconciliation and kindness?’

It does make you wonder how something so bitter has come to represent such sweet decadence in our lives, something that tastes so good that we don’t demand nutritional benefits from it. But on the weekend I made chocolate truffles that were vegan, gluten free and sugar free! Yet, I am sure Corinna would have melted with gooey delight at the taste.

I got the recipe from Ricki at Diet, Dessert and Dogs, and thought it might be kids party food. I didn’t count on the sophisticated adult depths of flavour. I had to make some minor changes to suit my tastes (wattleseed in preference to coffee) and pantry (I couldn’t find agave despite Ricki’s encouragement so I strayed from the vegan ingredients into the land of honey). The truffles are almost raw food which is also beneficial and easy. A recipe that requires no saucepans or ovens in summer is very welcome indeed!

In the end, despite all the talk of nutrients and health benefits, it is the taste the really matters and these truffles were chock full of it. They are soft, creamy, rich and oh so delicious! I didn’t put them in the fridge, although by the time I had given some to Yarrow and taken some to my parents, there was no danger of them hanging around too long. The feedback was all good, although E found them quite rich.

These truffles even had a mystery to be solved by the tasters. I would challenge anyone to guess they had soy sauce in them. And my problem of finding agave was solved over a coffee on the weekend – Yarrow has pointed me in the direction of the organic grocery on Lygon St in East Brunswick! Corinna Chapman would be pleased at all the detective work!

Wattleseed Cashew Truffles
(adapted from Diet Dessert and Dogs)

1 Tbsp wattleseed (or instant coffee)
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. soy sauce (it adds depth of flavor)
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tsp honey (or 3 tsp agave syrup)
1/2 cup cocoa (I used Dutch cocoa)
1/2 cup cashew nut butter
coconut, dried fruit or chopped nuts as desired to mix in or roll truffles in (optional)

Put all the ingredients in a bowl and mix. It is a little stiff and you can do it in the food processor if you wish! Take teaspoons of mixture and roll into glossy balls. Roll truffles in coconut (or cocoa or chopped nuts etc). Store in airtight container. Ricki advises to keep in fridge for up to 10 days – if you can keep them that long! I left them out of fridge because I like them soft. Ricki made 15 balls, I made 23.

On the Stereo:
The Silent Breath of Emptiness: OrchestraMaxfieldParrish

Sunday 20 January 2008

Coconut Chai Cake

An advantage of blogs over cookbooks is that you see the reality not just the food stylist’s vision. I recently came across a great quote in Farmer John’s Vegetable Cookbook – overheard as many of the best quotes are – from someone saying that reading a recipe is like reading science fiction: when you get to the end you think that’s never going to happen. I sometimes feel that way reading cookbooks. I love the ideas and the photos but it just doesn’t seem like something I will ever make. Blogs are different.

Lots of blogs are about people cooking at home, making mistakes, eating the food, and talking about it. So it is fascinating when a recipe starts to do the round of blogs and you can see the different experiences people have had with it. Like the velveteen rabbit, it becomes real. It is happening. It is being eaten.

So with the coconut chai cake that I made today, which I discovered when Cindy baked it last year. She got it from Helios via Susan. Cindy made it for afternoon snacks, Helios made it when moving house, Susan made it for breakfast but said it smelled so good that she ended up eating some of it the night before the morning after! Then I wondered who else had made it and put the cake into my search engine. Lots more people – Nandita, Melbourne Larder, even Laura Rebecca (who made it despite rather than because it was vegan!)

There were lots of mixed reactions which felt like friendly advice to help me learn from others’ experiences. Cindy gave the excellent advice to drop the almond essence so I don’t have to feel guilty at not rushing out to buy another flavouring to cram into my pantry. Nandita used soy milk instead of apple sauce and chickpea flour instead of plain flour. Melbourne Larder used apple and pear puree and warned it was quite sweet.

So now my turn to add to the bloggy blethering: I made it yesterday because I had some teabags I was given for a present and remembered this recipe as a great way to use them. The kitchen smelled wonderfully spicy as it came out of the oven – the chai teabags even made the bin smell fragrant. The cake was aromatic, moist and a little stodgy. I was glad I reduced the sugar a little as it was quite sweet enough for me.

The cake is vegan and has very little oil or fat in it – not surprising since it originated at Susan’s Fat Free Vegan blog. I found the cake nice but nothing special. E liked it a lot more because it is less rich than a lot of my lovely chocolate cakes. I thought it might taste better with a bit of butter and E fancied some cream with it – which may not be in the spirit of Susan’s blog. However, I think I will be making it again because it will be a wholesome way of filling me up during long afternoons at work.

I took some cake down to my parents’ place today. When I gave my mum a piece she said the smell reminded her of something. I realised what it was when I gave my dad a piece. ‘You’ll like it,’ I told him as I realised why we found the smell familiar, ‘it is a bit like honey roll.’

Honey roll is a type of swiss roll. It is a sweet sponge cake rolled up with a honeyed cream inside it, like what we call a jam roll (and Americans call a jelly roll). I have had a few discussions with my dad about it because he worries it is an endangered species. He thinks it is the perfect morsel to follow a sandwich at lunchtime but has had trouble finding it. Strangely enough, he also thinks it gets better as it ages. So maybe it is being sold less because there are too many homes around Melbourne where people have honey roll maturing at the back of their pantries!

I am glad to report that dad has located the elusive honey roll so all is well with the world. But maybe if it disappears altogether, he could be comforted by this coconut chai cake. After all, I think it gets better for sitting overnight!

Coconut chai cake
(from Fat Free Vegan via Where’s the Beef?)

2 chai tea bags
⅓ cup rolled oats
1 cup wholemeal flour
½ cup plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarb soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ cup raw sugar
⅓ cup unsweetened applesauce (or stewed apple – see Note)
1 tablespoon vinegar (I used raspberry vinegar )
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup dessicated coconut, with 2 tablespoons reserved

Brew the chai teabags in 1 cup of hot water, and let the water cool with the teabags left in. (it took me about 90 minutes). If you are making your own stewed apples (see Note) now is a good time to do it.

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

Place all ingredients (except reserved coconut) iIn a medium-sized mixing bowl and mix well. Spoon into prepared cake tin. Bake for 25 35 minutes. (It took me about 30 minutes.) It is done when a skewer comes out cleanly. Cool in tin 5-10 minutes and then turn out onto wire rack to cool.

Note on Applesauce: I never have applesauce around my house and never see it in the shops although I am sure I could find it. But when I was growing up my mum was always making stewed apples for desserts, so this seems more natural to me. For this recipe I peeled, cored and finely sliced a medium sized Granny Smith apple and cooked it on low in 1 cup of water for about 30 minutes til apples, stirring frequently. It is cooked when most of the water has evaporated and it can be mushed up with the back of a spoon to make a puree. But I only added the water gradually so in future I might add more water first thing and find I need a little less water and time. The applesauce directions I could find on the web suggested to me I should add cinnamon for true applesauce but I just was generous with cinnamon in the cake.

On the stereo:
Suite Elégiaque: Newtopia Project

Nigel’s bulghur supper

I recently bought Nigel Slater’s biography Toast and now I am hooked on this man’s words. Toast is a beautifully written memoir, telling the story of his life through his encounters with food. He evokes a time when curries and pasta were frightfully exotic in a 1960s Britain of roast dinners and rice pudding. He reminds us just how food gets entwined with our emotional experiences and comes to mean so much more than just nutrients. He fondly remembers baking jam tarts with his mother in a warm kitchen, being fed wibbly wobbly jelly when he was ill, and eating apples ‘with snow white flesh’ straight from the tree in the backyard. Despite his mother’s dislike of cooking, her food still represents nurture and when she dies, no amount of perfect cakes and pies baked by his new stepmother can compensate.

Last year Lucy directed me to the wonders of Nigel with her comment that the Kitchen Diaries (his book on a year of cooking in his kitchen) does what every blogger aspires to do. She is so right. I want to write like Nigel. But failing that I can cook some of his meals.

I have borrowed the Kitchen Diaries from the library but I know I am going to buy it so I haven’t attempted to find time to read it. But of course I have flicked through the recipes – firstly to check there are enough vegetarian recipes for me, and secondly to check that he has not jumped ship from and learned to like eggs. I am happy to find only one egg meal – a Spanish omelette. He still shares with me the dislike of eggs that ‘rules out a hundred quick suppers.’ Here is someone who understands how I feel about eggs. Not so with meat. The Kitchen Diaries has a reasonable amount of meat-free recipes but I really desire it for the elegant prose. However, I fear I will not buy many of his other cookbooks because a quick browse in the shops makes me feel they are too full of meat recipes to justify room on my overflowing shelves (but maybe I will buy his more discursive Eating for England despite his lack of understanding of nutroasts).

As an aside, I enjoy the whole cult of cookbook celebrities who churn out thoughtful and beautiful cookbooks, but our Nigellas and Jamies are so carnivorous. I’d buy more of their books if they weren’t so intent on eating so much meat. I dream of the day that we give the same reverence and devotion to some of the great vegetarian cookbook writers like Mollie Katzen and Rose Elliot!

But Nigel still inspires me to embrace good food and simple dishes. Reading his books is like sitting around a kitchen table with a friend sharing ideas. I found a wonderful quote in his book, Appetite, in which he encourages readers to ‘understand that both our ingredients and our hunger are variables that should not, cannot, be subjected to a set of formulas laid down in tablets of stone. I want you to break the rules. I want you to follow your appetite.' As a cook who often strays from the recipes, I heave a sigh of relief to hear him rejoicing in the recipes being living evolving creations rather than a copyrighted possession.

I was at the Queen Victoria Market last week and was enticed by a glossy stack of purple aubergines. E does not like aubergines so I buy them a little less than I might. I spend a lot of time trying to convince him that it is all about how they are cooked – when they are good they are very very good but when they are bad they are inedible. I found a recipe in the Kitchen Diaries for Bulghur Wheat with Aubergines and Mint. I decided to try it and if I liked it I would buy the book. Oh yes! I am buying the book!

Nigel says that this is a supper by itself and I can see why. The bulghur wheat is soft, the aubergine is melting, the tomatoes burst with flavour, and the mint and lemon lift the dish into a heavenly realm. The only thing I didn’t like was the huge amount of olive oil. Often I reduce such amounts but followed Nigel’s instructions and I suspect that frying the onions and aubergines in a sea of olive oil was among the reasons it tasted so good. So I will make it again, although possibly with a bit less oil.

I served it with some cucumber and green capsicum, and a simple creamy pumpkin dip on bread. I have given the recipe for the dip below as it is one that I come back to again and again when I want something different from the usual hummus and guacamole. But as Nigel suggests, the bulghur dish would make a fine simple supper all on its lonesome.

Bulghur Wheat with Aubergines and Mint
(adapted from Nigel Slater)
Serves 2-4

6 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely sliced
1 bay leaf
2 smallish aubergines, chopped in chunks
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup bulghur wheat
2 cups (500ml) vegetable stock
4-5 tomatoes
3 tbsp nuts (I used hazelnuts and cashews, Nigel used pinenuts)
15-20 leave mint, chopped
juice of half a lemon, or to taste

Warm oil in a large frypan or saucepan. Add onion and bayleaf for a couple of minutes (the onion doesn’t need to cook well as it will continue cooking with the aubergine). Then add the aubergine and toss well to coat with oil. Fry over medium heat for about 15 minutes or til aubergine is soft and golden. Add garlic in last couple of minutes of frying aubergines. Add bulghur wheat and stock. Cook a further 15-20 minute (Nigel says to bring to boil and simmer til wheat is nutty, but the wheat soaked up the stock and wasn’t in any state to simmer but it cooked ok). Stir through nuts, mint, lemon juice and check seasoning.

Creamy pumpkin dip
(from Vikki Leng, Vegetarian Feasts)

1 cup mashed pumpkin
1 tbsp white miso
Few drops Tabasco sauce (or 1 finely chopped mild chilli)
Freshly ground black pepper
125g cream cheese or tofu
1-2 tbsp fresh chives, chopped

Blend all ingredients in the blender except chives which should be stirred in later. If you are using cream cheese you could alternatively just mix by hand.

On the Stereo:
Happy Blues: Michael Donato and Guillaume Bouchard