Sunday 30 November 2008

Leftover Cream and Paprikash

I felt like the cat that got the cream. Literally. I had bought a tub of cream which was not used for cakes as I had intended. Instead it sat in the fridge for weeks until I looked at the best by date and found I only had a few days to use it.

I almost dislike using cream as much as I hate throwing out food. It just seems all fat and no taste to me. A little on a rich cake is understandable but a tub of it just overwhelms me. It’s not that I don’t like dairy but I prefer it with a bit of culture – cheese, yoghurt, sour cream all seem far more interesting.

But needs must and I was determined to find a use for the cream. After all, it is not as though I never cook with cream. It can be used in a pasta sauce, a soup, a curry or toffee sauce, but I fancied trying something else. I am sure I have seen those intense potatoes baked in a cream sauce dishes but couldn’t think of where. Finally I found a recipe in Rose Elliot’s Vegetarian Dishes from Around the World for Potato and Mushroom Stew with Sour Cream. I checked on the web and worked out that if I put about 2 tsp of lemon juice in half a cup of cream, it would be an approximate substitute for sour cream.

Rose says that this is a Hungarian dish usually called a Paprikash. I thought it looked quite like a mushroom stroganoff. Then I saw Lysy making a pumpkin goulash which looked quite similar to this recipe (except mine didn’t have pumpkin in it). I also remembered another stew with sauerkraut called Szekely Gulyas which I had made last year which was also similar. So I turned to Wikipedia which described a goulash as a soup thickened by stewing meat and potatoes. The paprikash seems to be a variation on this with a thick and creamy paprika sauce.

Checking the internet there are a few other tasty looking paprikashes. Many used more paprika than me. Where’s the Beef’s deeply coloured mushroom paprikash, which Cindy and Michael serve with potato pancakes still makes my mouth water. I also liked the look of Ommnomnom’s Cauliflower and Chickpea Paprikash, Fat Free Vegan’s Eggplant Paprikash with an interesting vegan sour cream, and centrepullball’s Paprikash with Dumplings.

I’d like to try some other paprikash recipes but was happy with the one I made. It was was very tasty. I used a mixture of mild paprika, smoked paprika and cayenne pepper which worked well. I put in some tofu because it was in the fridge. In future I would be tempted to have more tofu and less potato. It was terribly rich with the cream and I would prefer a lighter yoghurt in it. We also added grated cheese which added to the intensity of the dairy ingredients.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that I delight in colourful food and understand my disappointment at the lack of colour. The first night I served it with some steamed broccoli and pasta. E told me that pasta, potato and tofu is an odd combination. When I served the leftover stew the second night I served it with rice and a salad – the latter made up of vegetables in the fridge which needed usng: corn, cucumber, tomato, spring onion and some lemon juice. Both of us much preferred it this way, though I am sure it is not at all traditional.

Potato, Mushroom and Tofu Paprikash
(adapted from Rose Elliot)
Serves 4

2 tbsp oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
850g potatoes, diced*
150g tofu, diced*
2 tsp mild paprika
½ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp cayenne pepper
Pinch salt (or to taste)
4 tbsp plain flour
500ml (2 cups) vegetable stock
200g button mushrooms, quartered
½ cup sour cream or yoghurt (or cream plus 2 tsp lemon juice)
Black pepper
Few handfuls of grated tasty cheese (optional)

(* Or you could use more tofu and less potatoes)

Heat oil in a large saucepan and fry onions for 5 minutes or til soft and golden (I think it took me a bit longer than this on a lowish heat).

Stir in garlic, potatoes, tofu and spices til well combined. Then add flour and stir a minute. Add stock and mix well. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or til potatoes are just cooked. The liquid will thicken and you need to stir the stew frequently to stop it sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add mushrooms and cook another 3-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Mix a spoonful or two of the sauce into the sour cream or yoghurt. Add creamy mixture to the stew gradually. Heat gently if it need it (mine didn’t). Serve hot with a handful of cheese, a dusting of paprika, plus rice or pasta and side vegetables.

On the stereo:
Loony Runes: Current 93

Friday 28 November 2008

Accolades and some random facts

Not so long ago, Flower tagged me for seven random facts and so I am now happily obliging. But first I wanted to say thanks for some nice awards and accolades.

I recently was awarded the Butterfly Award by Flower from Flowers at Home who has a very sweet blog chronicling her experiments in the kitchen as she learns about vegan and vegetarian cooking. She has a cute fluffy cat and I am hoping to see more of her cheerfully coloured cups she makes in pottery!

Soon after I was awarded the I love your blog award by Katie of Apple and Spice. Katie does a lot of fine baking and right now is in the middle of a series of posts about baking her Christmas cake. I can’t wait to see the finished product because she has a way of presenting her baked goods with finesse.

I also wanted to mention a couple of nice comments recently that particularly appealed to me. Lucy said I was the Poster Girl for Pumpkin. Meanwhile Bee and Catherine called me the Nut Roast Queen. These are fine accolades indeed as I can’t think of better foods to be associated with than pumpkin and nut roasts.

So big thanks to Flower and Katie for the awards and to everyone who takes the time to write lovely comments on my blog. Your kind and thoughtful words always cheer me up. I know I should pass on awards and I always mean to but when it comes to choosing who to pass it on to, I don’t want to miss anyone out because there are just too many great blogs to choose from. So until one day when I will try and pass on some awards, I want everyone to know your time and comments and awards are appreciated.

Warm gooey feelings aside, here is the 7 Random Facts meme passed onto me by Flower. Thanks (again) Flower for some foodie-free fun.

1. A favourite serving bowl in my kitchen is one that I bought from beside the sea of Galilee in Israel where Jesus was said to have performed the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. I always feel this bowl should feed hungry hoards even though it is quite small. (See picture above)

2. I don’t give blood at the blood bank any more because the last time I did I sort of fainted and then lay on a bed in so much pain that neither I nor the staff want to go through that again.

3. I was named after my great grandmother. I hardly remember her because she died when I was young. We called her Other Nan – because we called one of my grandmothers, Nan. In my mind she looks like the pretty young woman in a white dress and big hat which is how she appears in a photo on my shelves.

4. One thing I love about summer is being able to walk around barefoot at home. Soon as I get home from work the shoes go off.

5. I was knocked off my bike a few years ago by a local councillor who didn’t see me as he drove around a corner. Luckily I got away with a few bruises and scratches and my bike was intact – but it gave both of us a huge scare. The only real casualty was a pair of woollen tights I had bought in Paris.

6. I love visiting quirky museums – some of the more esoteric ones I have visited have been the Pencil Museum in the Lake District and the Dog Collar museum near Leeds Castle.

7. When I was little, our pet cats lived outside and I had a favourite book called the Outside Cat all about a cat who lived outside and wanted to go inside. Ironically our cat Zinc spends more time inside than out.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Nut roast with chestnuts

In the southern hemisphere, summer can give me a split personality. One voice with the cultural memory of European winters past, whispers about the need for warming comforting festive food. Meanwhile the voice which knows all very well that the end of the year in Melbourne is heralded with a scorching summer, insists that it is too hot for anything but a simple salad. Even though Christmas is still too many weeks away to even start counting, the decorations are going up in shopping centres and civic spaces and my local supermarket is now playing carols. As if that is not enough to mess with my mind, my American blogging pals are immersed in Thanksgiving.

Is it any wonder my thoughts have been full of chestnuts lately. I bought a can of chestnut puree months ago partly out of curiosity because they are uncommon around these parts. It was French and very expensive. Initially I thought I would maybe use it for Sophie’s chestnut parsnip and orange soup or Lysy’s chestnut orange chocolate mousse cake. But this weekend the weather was gloomy grey and I wanted a roast dinner just like my mum used to make. Well, almost! These days I tend to make nut roasts rather than roast beef. And I have never made a nut roast with chestnuts.

I searched for chestnut nut roasts on the web. I found a few – Betty Rundle’s chestnut, mushroom and nut roast, crown nut roast, and the ever popular Brazil and cashew nut roast with chestnut stuffing. All were the sort of fancy nut roast you might make for a festive feast. In my cookbooks there was a similar dearth of recipes. Rose Eliot had a few festive chestnut roasts. I just wanted something a bit plainer. We were celebrating nothing more than some unseasonally cool weather which begged for me to avail myself of a hot oven.

So I decided to just make something up using Rose Eliot’s loaves and Sarah Brown’s Chestnut and Walnut Bake as a guide. I knew what I wanted in the nut roast – chestnut puree, another sort of nut, vegetables, herbs and maybe cheese and egg. The chestnut puree was a little on the sweet side so I added soy sauce. Once it went in the oven I realised I had not added breadcrumbs as I had intended but it tasted fine without. Unfortunately I found it stuck to the sides of the tin – more than most nut roasts – and was very soft so it just collapsed a little once out of the tin.

But it tasted delicious. I still find the soft and silkily smooth chestnut puree is overwhelmingly rich. It tasted so intense that the nut roast needed the texture and lighter flavours of the finely chopped nuts and vegetables. Indeed, I wonder if the decadence of chestnuts in a nut roast is hard to avoid and precisely the reason they are so popular at festive occasions.

Nut roasts are too rich to eat alone and I served this in a style similar to my childhood roast dinners – with crispy roast potatoes, melting roast pumpkin, soft peas and savoury gravy. When young, we would eat around the kitchen table but sometimes E and I like to be a bit more relaxed. We had tea on the knee in front of The Bill on the telly with the rain lashing down outside and the cat curled up on the beanbag. Now if that isn’t comfort, I don’t know what is!

Given that it is Thanksgiving in America coming up and that this nut roast would make a fine centrepiece for a special feast, I thought it timely to say thanks to a couple of sites that have included my recipes in their thanksgiving ideas. Meeta of What’s For Lunch Honey has included Polenta Quinoa Sticks with Rhubarb Sauce as a starter in her Big Holiday Menu Planner on FoodieView. Sew Mama Sew have a Handmade Holidays series in which they include my Chocolate Fruitcake Recipe among their gift ideas. From a brief acquaintance, these seem good sites to delve into for some great holiday ideas.

And I am sending this nut roast to Johanna at the Passionate Cook who is hosting this month’s Waiter! There's something in my... Roast.

Chestnut, Walnut and Mushroom nut roast
(Inspired by Rose Eliot and Sarah Brown)
Serves 4-6

1 tsp olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
1-2 small carrots, grated or finely chopped
200g mushrooms, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
200g chestnut puree (or mashed chestnuts)
125g walnuts, finely chopped
1-2 tbsp fresh herbs, finely chopped (I used parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme)
1 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
1 egg
1 cup (lightly packed) grated tasty cheese
Black pepper

Grease and line a loaf tin (about 13 x 22 cm) with baking paper or well greased greaseproof paper – usually I’d just line the base and grease the sides but for this loaf I would line the sides as well. Preheat oven to 200 C.

Heat oil in frypan and fry the onion, celery and carrots for about 5 minutes over medium heat. Add mushrooms and garlic and fry an additional 5 minutes or til mushrooms soften. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add remaining ingredients. Mix well.

Spoon mixture into prepared loaf tin and bake for 45-60 minutes. Let sit for about 10 minutes and the turn out onto serving dish. Serve in slices with gravy, chutney or tomato sauce and lots of vegetables on the side.

On the stereo:
Lashtal: Current 93

Sunday 23 November 2008

Chocolate Cake, Creative Control and Climate Change

Yesterday was a grey and gloomy spring day with heavy rain punctuated with teasing bursts of sunshine. I was baking chocolate cake while E and Zinc were shut away in the study recording a new song. It seems that E’s musical genius is starting to rub off on the cat. When I went in to see how it was going, I found that not only had Zinc managed to get her miaowing on the recording but that backing vocals were not enough for her. Her paw was hovering over E’s keyboard where he was working at his music software. She wanted creative control. Don’t we all!

While those two were immersed in their creative endeavours, I was baking at a leisurely pace. When it comes to creaming butter and sugar, some days it seems more relaxing to do it by hand rather than get out the electric beaters. However there was quite a lot of it and took me a while.

My thoughts meandered along the lines of positing that if we run out of fossil fuels for electricity, I would have a skill I could share. But then I started to think I probably wouldn’t have my gas oven and might need a wood oven like my mum has. Then I got to worrying about felling trees for firewood, especially given we live in the city. Not to mention concerns about how we make chocolate, how we get spices to Australia, how we keep dairy cool without a fridge. Argh! Would climate change mean no chocolate cakes? A scary prospect. Maybe better to use the electric beaters than have time to contemplate such a future!

Indeed I love my chocolate cakes. If you have a quick look at my index you will find a selection of 13 chocolate cakes. Some of my favourites would have to be walnut fudge cake, one bowl flourless chocolate cake and melt and mix chocolate chunk mud cake. Special occasion cakes that are meant to be shared. All indulgently rich and gooey. Just the sort of cake that Lorraine has asked for in her Ultimate Chocolate Cake Challenge at Not Quite Nigella.

She has asked us to make our Best Ever Chocolate Cake. But which one? Despite having blogged about some of my favourite cakes, I realised that there are still plenty more. I started thinking of other chocolate cake recipes I have returned to due to fond memories: Helen Goh’s chocolate cake, Nigella’s store cupboard chocolate orange cake, chocolate banana cake, and the paragon choc orange cake. I checked my notebook that I write my recipes in and a quick count showed there to be 34 different chocolate cake recipes. That doesn’t even include all the chocolate cake recipes in my cookbooks.

Searching my memory, one cake stood out for me as fascinating and delicious enough to make again and again, yet not so rich as to have to be kept for a special occasion. It was originally an Applesauce Cocoa Cake from Molly Katzen’s Still Life with Menu Cookbook. But when I first made it a couple of years ago at an afternoon tea around Halloween, I also used some leftover pumpkin from pumpkin scones. So I made it again this weekend with a few extra changes (Zinc is not the only one to want a little creative control). I think this cake pleases so much because it has so many elements that I love in good chocolate cakes – vegetables, fruit, nuts, spices, and of course cocoa!

The pumpkin adds to the light texture of the cake and the spices make it rich but not indulgently so. It is best on the day with either a light dusting of icing sugar or iced (icing sugar, cocoa, a knob of butter and hot water). But it will last for a few days and some of mine will go in the freezer for later. I am not sure I would be bold enough to claim it is the best chocolate cake ever. There are too many out there to choose from. But when climate change alters our lives drastically, I hope we will still be able to bake such a cake!

Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Cake
(adapted from Molly Katzen)

185g butter
1½ cups brown sugar (lightly packed)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp orange zest
2 cups plain white flour
1 cup plain wholemeal flour
½ cup cocoa (I used dutch cocoa)
½ tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp allspice
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 cup (100g) finely ground almonds
1 cup mashed pumpkin*
½ cup sugar free raspberry jam*
½ cup yoghurt

*To prepare the pumpkin, take a wedge of pumpkin (I used Kent) weighing about 350g. Trim and peel. Cut into chunks and microwave on high for about 4-5 minutes til soft. Use a fork to mash. You could also substitute unsweetened apple sauce for the raspberry jam and/or pumpkin.

Preheat oven to 200 C (350 F). Grease and line a 23cm square cake tin.

In a large bowl cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each. Add vanilla and orange zest. Beat well. Set aside.

Mix all dry ingredients together. Mix pumpkin, jam and yoghurt together. Add dry ingredients and pumpkin mixture to butter mixture in two batches (wet, dry, wet, dry). Stir til just combined. It makes quite a stir mixture.

Spoon into prepared tin and bake for 45-55 minutes or til a skewer comes out clean. (NB mine took 45 minutes.) Cool on a wire rack. Serve iced or dusted with icing sugar.

On the Stereo:
16 Lovers Lane – the Go Betweens

Friday 21 November 2008

A cool week of casseroles

It has been a week of vegan casseroles that promise much and take their time to deliver. Partly because I see a recipe that enthuses me but it takes some time to get around to making it. Partly because both casseroles seemed quite simple and yet preparation and cooking time took longer than I anticipated.

On Monday night I made pumpkin and black bean casserole from Fat Free Vegan. I’d been determined to bake it last week until the heat soared and the ingredients went into a laksa. For anyone who is jealous of our hot weather, we had the heater on last night because it has been quite cool this week – although I still wouldn’t have put the heater on if E wasn’t feeling poorly! But being a Scottish lad, pumping up the heater when summer is almost upon us doesn’t seem so weird to him.

Susan’s casserole was nice but strong tasting and took much longer for the pumpkin to soften up in the oven for me than for her. I had looked forward to it a lot but it wasn’t as I expected. I take some of the blame due to accidentally buying a can of creamed corn rather than corn kernels which then I had decided would thicken the sauce in lieu of corn flour but it didn’t and the casserole was more like a soup. Still, I would make it again but as a side with lots of salad or side vegetables.

On Wednesday I made Isa’s Chickpea Broccoli Casserole from Vegan with a Vengeance. I wasn’t feeling terribly inspired by any recipes (despite oodles on my shelves and my computer) and liked Isa’s claim it was a little bland. In fact it was very good but a little on the salty side – possibly as a result of the stock powder I used being stronger than the broth she used. But it comforted me like a nut roast – and that is high praise from me. I asked E if he thought it a bit like a burger and he disagreed. Well it did fall into crumbly bits!

The great thing about blogging is checking out how a recipe has turned out for others. Well the other pics I could find of the dish looked lighter with larger chunks of broccoli. I chopped the broccoli small because I was paranoid about it not cooking after waiting too long for the pumpkin casserole to bake earlier in the week. Mine was a little charred and crispy at the edges – as I like it – because I didn’t cover it during baking.

What was hardest was Isa’s recommendation to try this casserole plain before trying it with more spices etc. I found a nice quote from Nigella today where she said ‘there is always room for careful tinkering’. I agree. But I did stick to the recipe – mostly! I changed some quantities and added some garlic. What I really wanted to add was some sun dried tomatoes and cheese – as well as herbs or spices. E thought it would be great with tuna. Not sure how it will be next time, but I found it very satisfyingly plain and hope I will be making it again.

I think one reason I enjoyed Isa’s casserole more than Susan’s is I managed a better serving of salad with it. Ironically the avocado I had bought to serve with the earlier casserole didn’t ripen til I served Isa’s later in the week. E, of course, doused his in tomato sauce and Tabasco sauce and said there was too much salad. I did have a little beetroot and apple chutney the second night which was pretty good with it too.

Chickpea Broccoli Casserole
(adapted from Vegan with a Vengeance)
Serves 4-6

2 x 400g cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 onion, finely chopped,
6 small carrots, grated (about 250g or 2 cups)
2 large heads of broccoli, cut into small florets (about 750g)
2 tablespoons finely sliced chives
1 cup dried wholemeal bread crumbs
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup stock
½ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 200 C (or 180 C if your oven is more powerful than mine).

In a large bowl, roughly mash the chickpeas, using a potato masher or fork. Isa says this takes 2 minutes but I never clock watch when I do this sort of thing. Add remaining ingredients in the order in the ingredients list and mix well. Taste before adding the salt as I found my casserole on the salty side. It should be quite a crumbly consistency but moist.

Spoon mixture into a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish (Isa suggests it ideally should be glass or ceramic but mine is my metal roasting dish). Press down firmly. Bake for about 60 minutes and serve hot.

On the Stereo:
We Rise Above (Russian Neofolk Compilation) – Various Artists

Tuesday 18 November 2008

NCR Pumpkin and Tofu Laksa

Blame it on the weather! Blame it on the shrimp! Blame it on blogging! I had to make laksa last week as the temperatures soared to 35 C. I had planned on baking something in the oven til the heat got the better of me. Then I saw a link from Cassie to BBC Food's Pumpkin and Tofu Laksa recipe by Celia Brooks Brown and it seemed just right for such weather.

Laksa is something I have been meaning to cook for a while. I keep seeing others blog their versions. I’ve promised myself I will do the same. Despite my love of this soup, it is one that constantly thwarts me because so many version of the laksa paste and laksas served in restaurants have shrimp in them and are not vegetarian. I’d like to say I just whip up some paste at home but the ingredients have always seemed a bit of a challenge. But I felt that the BBC version was within my grasp – no shrimp paste, candlenuts or galangal.

I stopped off at the supermarket and got a few ingredients that I was missing and headed home to whip it up. It took me longer than the 30 minutes promised in the recipe but wasn’t overly difficult. My food processor didn’t produce a really smooth paste even after a lot of blending and scraping down the sides but what it produced was passable. Ironically on the same night I had set out to make it I finally found a laksa paste in the supermarket without shrimp paste in it – after some months of searching – but I am sure it will not be as good as my home made attempt!

I decided to do my own thing and cook the pumpkin in the soup rather than prior to adding to it. Unfortunately this meant I missed the bit in the recipe about adding the pumpkin water (oops!) which might account for the soup being a little thick. The second night I added more water to thin it out and it was much better (so I have amended this in my version of the recipe below). I also added a few vegetables that I had in the house rather than a more traditional cucumber and tomato.

The recipe only called for vermicelli noodles but I have always liked laksa with both thick hokkien and thin vermicelli so I used a combination of them. I appreciate the recipe says to warm the noodles and then add to the bowl and pour soup over them, but as I knew I would have leftovers, I thought it easier to add them to the soup – which meant I half served it with tongs!

While making the laksa was a bit of a challenge for me, eating it was a challenge for E. He doesn’t order it whenever the opportunity arises when he is eating out so he is not familiar with the way the noodles flick turmeric-stained sauce everywhere. It is the sort of soup to eat with either a decent serviette down your front or even a teatowel tied around your neck. This is not a meal that can be eaten elegantly. But for me, the fragrant coconut soup with slurpy noodles and lots of fresh vegetables is heavenly and worth any mess.

E (aka The Grim Eater) disagrees. I served it so late the first night that it was dark outside and we ate it indoors but he needed some hedgehog fudge slice and to watch an episode of Get Smart, from our box set, to recover. On the second night we decided to eat outside. Unfortunately the dark clouds of the cool change were already gathering as we sat to eat. There were a few ominous rain drops but they cleared to allow us to eat. By the time the rain came on I had finished and E found it a useful excuse to say he had eaten enough. I, on the other hand, was most content!

I am sending this soup to Holler and Lisa for their No Croutons Required event. This month they are requesting any type of pasta in a soup or salad.

Pumpkin and Tofu Laksa
(adapted from BBC Food)
Serves 4

350g tofu, dried with kitchen paper and chopped
canola oil, for frying
200g pumpkin or butternut squash, trimmed, peeled and diced
400ml tin of coconut milk
1 litre water
2 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
1 tsp agave nectar
200g asparagus, trimmed and chopped
3 button mushrooms, sliced
½ red capsicum, sliced
80g rice vermicelli noodles
200g hokkien noodles

For the spice paste:
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1-2 red chillis, de-seeded and finely chopped
5cm/2in fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 small onion, chopped
¼ tsp ground turmeric
2 stalks lemongrass, sliced
4 kaffir lime leaves, finely chopped

To serve:
2 spring onions, chopped
4 handfuls of beansprouts
coriander and mint leave (I didn’t use)
large handful of basil leaves
Optional: thinly sliced capsicum, tomato wedges, thin strips of cucumber

Place about 1 cm of oil in a frypan and heat over medium heat. Place tofu gently in oil to fry til just turning golden and crisp. Turn with an eggflip or spatula and fry on other side. Drain on kitchen paper.

While tofu fries, make the spice paste by pureeing all ingredients in food processor with 3 tablespoons of water (or a bit more if needed). This took me quite a few goes and a lot of scraping down the side and it still wasn’t smooth but was enough of a paste.

Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large wok or frypan. Add spice paste and fry for two minutes to release aromas. Add coconut milk, soy sauce, agave and pumpkin. Boil and simmer for about 10 minutes until pumpkin is cooked but firm not soft. Add tofu, asparagus, mushrooms and capsicum. Simmer an additional 5 minutes

Meanwhile place vermicelli noodles in a bowl of boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain. Add vermicelli and hokkien noodles to the soup for a minute or two to warm them. Add more water if necessary. (NB in the BBC recipe, it is suggested that noodles are placed in bowls and noodles ladled over them.)

To serve use tongs to serve noodles and a ladle to serve remaining soup into bowls. Top with bean sprouts, spring onions, herbs, and vegetables as desired. Position your serviette to catch the drips and get slurping!

On the Stereo:
La Nouvelle Art du Deuil: Tomografia Assiale Computerizzata

Sunday 16 November 2008

Indulgently frugal fudge slice

I see enough variety on blogs to know that my standard recipes aren’t necessarily what others consider the common garden version. Yet I was surprised at the version of hedgehog in the Australian Women’s Weekly Old Fashioned Favourites. It is full of melted chocolate which is just not at all the way our grandmothers cooked – well not mine! You see, hedgehog is one of my favourite slices from childhood and I will post about it one of these days because it is a recipe I go back to again and again. But not this version.

The only reason I settled on this version last weekend was that I had bits and pieces of ingredients that I wanted to use up – half a packet of biscuits, some handfuls of choc chips in packages and my opened packet of dried cherries that I have been keeping for a rainy day. I was tempted by choc chip cookies or muffins but I was wondering what to do with the leftover biscuits.

The combination of chocolate and condensed milk in the hedgehog recipe was just too tempting a way to be ‘frugal’ and use up the half opened packets in the pantry. It was also just the indulgence I needed after a trip to a nearby large shopping centre. You might say I was being frugally indulgent or indulgently frugal. Any excuse really! However, I make no claims that this slice is a healthy snack.

I can’t speak highly enough of melting chocolate and condensed milk together. It is my favourite sweet foods thrown together. I did have visions of white choc chips studded through the dark chocolate but I think my chocolate mixture was a little warm and more of the white dark choc chips melted than I had intended.

As a rule, I prefer hedgehog at room temperature rather than in the fridge. I was a bit unsure about this one being left out of the fridge because of the chocolate but I think in future I might leave it out because chilling it did make it a little firm for my liking. It should be slightly soft fudge sauce with chunks of biscuit (or cookie to Americans) and chewy jewels of cherries. Provided it is not too cold, this was rather good but not quite as comfortingly wonderful as my family’s hedgehog!

We had it for dessert after dinner last week. E didn’t fancy the idea of cold hard slice at all – although it was quite edible – and had his share of it heated in the microwave as a gooey dessert to be eaten with a spoon. I was just surprised he didn’t cover it in cream. He was also not impressed with the lovely dried cherries. But finally I knew he had come round to loving the slice when I made laksa and he told me that he would prefer a plateful of slice for dinner to the laksa. Sigh! I would rate the slice as a success but it should not be too cold and is definitely not at all what I call hedgehog!

Hedgehog Fudge with Dried Cherries
(adapted from the Australian Women’s Weekly’s Old Fashioned Favourites)

125g dark choc chips
60g butter
¾ cup condensed milk
125g white choc chips
80g dried cherries
125g marie biscuits

Melt dark choc chips, butter and condensed milk in the microwave (or over very low heat on the stove top). I think it took me about 1 minute on high and then I stirred til all the chocolate and butter had melted. Set aside.

Place the biscuits in a paper or plastic bag and bash about (I used a rolling pin or heavy cup to whack them with but be careful of the bag breaking) til they are broken into small pieces. There should be some small chunks rather than pulverising them to a powder which could be done in a food processor.

Mix slightly cooled chocolate mixture with white choc chips, cherries and broken biscuits. Spread into a small slice tin which has been lined with baking paper. Mine didn’t quite fit my tin which is about 18 x 28cm so I just spread it in about ¾ of the tin.

Place in the fridge for 4 hours or til firm. When firm cut into pieces with a sharp knife (about 5x5cm or as desired). Best served at room temperature (or even warmed a little in the microwave).

On the stereo
Operation Hummingbird: Death in June

Saturday 15 November 2008

GYO Spiced yoghurt rice with nectarines and mint

After a couple of nights eating our rogan josh curry with roti, I was concerned we didn’t have enough left for a full meal and decided to make an interesting rice dish to serve with it.

Usually I just boil up the rice and dump dinner on top of it. But having been inspired by many of Lisa’s rice dishes, I made a quick search of her blog for ideas. I was spoilt for choice. One of the first dishes to catch my eye was the Chilled Mango and Yoghurt Rice. I am not a lover of mangos (blame too much bland orange and mango juice as a child!) but nectarines are just coming into season here so I had quite a few which I thought I could substitute for mango. I also had a tub of yoghurt to use up.

Lisa used fresh coriander (cilantro) and dried mint. Not being a fresh coriander lover, I wanted to use fresh mint instead. We have some mint in the garden which I decided to use. I am still a novice at growing herbs (or anything else for that matter) in the garden and don’t know when is the right time to pick herbs and when I should just let them grow. I wish I had so many herbs that you wouldn't even notice if I took a handful but you do notice when I raid our small pots. However, our mint has been flourishing and I was concerned that if I didn’t use it, the sun and insects would take it from me. So I grabbed a handful for the rice dish. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

I didn’t chill this dish to serve on the first night but by the time I had let the rice dry for 20 minutes and added the yoghurt, it was room temperature. It was pleasingly creamy and spicy with chunks of nectarine and the refreshing taste of mint. I served it for another two nights with falafels, broccoli and tomato. It was best on the first night. When it had been in the fridge overnight it was still quite tasty but the rice wasn’t quite as soft.

E commented approvingly that it would be good for a summer night on the first night. But the next couple of nights he heated it in the microwave a little. It did remind me a little of a rice salad but the spices made it a fine accompaniment to a curry as well as to the falafels. Now I am keen to try more of Lisa’s rice dishes.

Because I have used mint from our garden, I am sending this to Ning of Heart and Health who is hosting this fortnight’s Grow Your Own which is coordinated by Andrea’s Recipes. This event is for bloggers to share recipes using homegrown produce from their own gardens or those of friends and families.

Spiced Yoghurt Rice with Nectarines and Mint
(adapted from Lisa’s Kitchen)
Serves 6 as a side

1 cup uncooked basmati rice
200ml unsweetened natural yogurt
2 small nectarines, chopped
1 small handful of fresh mint leaves, chopped
½ teaspoon sea salt
Generous grinding of black pepper
Shake of cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 tablespoon ghee or olive oil
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
½-1 inch piece fresh ginger, minced

Cook rice as directed on packet and rinse under cold water when drained (see Lisa’s recipe if you want to cook using the absorption method which is probably preferable but I didn’t do). Set rice aside to cool for at least 20 minutes.

Combine the rice in a large mixing (or serving) bowl with yogurt, nectarines, mint, salt, pepper and cayenne. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper or cayenne as desired.

Heat the ghee or olive oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. When hot, toss in the mustard seeds and ginger and fry until the mustard seeds turn gray and start to splutter. Pour over the rice and gently mix. Serve at room temperature.

On the stereo:
Enchanted Islands: Martin Denny

Wednesday 12 November 2008

Rogan Josh with variety

On the weekend, E and I headed off to Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces in inner city Fitzroy to see an exhibition called 21:100:100 one hundred sound works by one hundred artists from the 21st century.

The art gallery was an artful arrangement of the rows of 100 artist storyboards and headphones with long cords fanning out from points in the ceiling to each set of headphones. It was a fascinating sound art installation with such an abundance of pieces to listen to. Low stools were scattered about for those who chose to listen at length.

We didn’t manage to listen to all of them but stayed for quite some time sampling the soundwaves. Some pieces were such a cacophony that no sooner had I put on the headphones than I would replace them in their cradle. But others had me mesmerised and it was hard to drag myself away from such beguiling sounds. Some of the bands I enjoyed were Three Quarters Had Been Eliminated, Brothers Of The Occult Sisterhood, Fennesz, Pateras/Baxter/Brown, Michael Snow, and Sonic Youth. Sadly I can’t remember most of the names. What I loved about the exhibition was the smorgasbord of so much to sample.

When I started to write this post about how I love lots of different vegetables in a curry, I thought of the exhibition and how the myriad of choices made it so enjoyable. While the idea of a table filled with many different curries is hugely appealing, the reality at home is that I usually only make one curry so it needs to be good and full of lots of interesting vegetables..

When we lived in Edinburgh, we would frequent the Prince of India in Peebles when visiting E’s parents. I would often order a sabzi rogan josh. It was quite spicy but not eye-wateringly so. What I really loved was that it was filled with lots of different vegetables. Most curries served in Melbourne’s Indian restaurants seem lucky to have two vegetables – or three if you count onion! So for some time now I have had my eye on a recipe for a rogan josh sauce in Barbara Cousins’ Vegetarian Cooking Without. Such a treat to have a home made rogan josh sauce and be able to fill it with lots of lovely vegetables ad legumes!

The sauce was full of flavour and spice, albeit a bit sweeter than my usual curries. As usual I went easy with the chilli and then found myself thinking it should have a bit more heat. I haven't cooked with coconut milk much lately and forget how much it takes the heat out. I was glad there was a nice red tomatoey taste to the sauce which is how I remember it.

I was not surprised that the suggested curries were only a couple of vegetables but I just added my own mixture of potato, pumpkin, zucchini, peas, chickpeas plus sultanas and cashews! I was surprised that even with my generous helpings of vegetables there still seemed to be a lot more sauce than I usually make but found this pleasing. Of course, any combination of vegetables could be used. My combination just lacked the chunks of just cooked tomatoes which I always loved in Peebles.

While I was indulging my whims I decided I needed to find some good thick flaky roti breads to serve with the curry. I bought roti from the supermarket some time ago and it resembled a flat tasteless tortilla. Luckily E is quite familiar with the city’s curry cafes and recommended the Curry Corner on the corner of Bourke and Russell Streets which I was able to get to at lunch time and purchase some good roti.

I made the sauce one night and simmered the vegetables in it the next. Heating up the roti on a frypan made easy work of dinner. On the third night when our roti supplies had dwindled, I served it with a little roti and a chilled yoghurt rice that I will post about soon. Most delicious. Highly recommended for anyone who fancies sampling just a little of everything.

With lots of chickpeas in the curry, I am sending it to Simone from Briciole who is hosting this month’s My Legume Love Affair (deadline 30 November) which was founded by Susan from The Well Seasoned Cook.

Vegetable and Chickpea Rogan Josh
(adapted from Vegetarian Cooking Without)
Serves 6

Simmer Sauce:
1 tbsp olive oil
3 medium onions, chopped
2.5cm/1 inch piece of ginger, finely grated
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric
¼ - ½ tsp chilli powder (I used ¼ cayenne pepper)
270ml tin of lite coconut milk
400g tin of diced tomatoes
1 tbsp fresh coriander (cilantro), chopped
½ tsp salt or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

In the curry:
400g tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4-5 medium potatoes, diced
1 cup frozen peas
Small handful of sultanas
4 smallish zucchini, sliced
200g pumpkin, peeled and diced
Small handful of chopped cashew nuts

Heat oil in a medium saucepan and add onions, garlic and ginger. Fry til onions soften. Add spices and stir another 1-2 minutes. Add coconut milk, tomatoes, coriander and salt. Check seasoning. Simmer about 5 minutes. Blend using a hand held blender or food processor. (At this stage the sauce can be frozen to use later if desired.)

Transfer sauce to a large saucepan and add potatoes, peas, chickpeas and sultanas. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Add zucchinis and pumpkin. Simmer about 20 minutes, stirring frequently (mine kept sticking to the bottom of the pot). Scatter with cashew nuts to serve.

On the stereo:
The World that Summer: 1986-2006 20th anniversary extras - Death in June

Sunday 9 November 2008

Soup from the Black Lagoon

Months ago I bought a packet of what is labelled ‘black kidney beans’. I have always assumed they are black beans and so I have been waiting for the opportunity to use them. By which I mean a day I get myself organized enough to soak them the night before. It didn’t happen overnight but it finally happened on a weekend when I had time and energy.

Given how infrequently I soak and cook legumes, particularly of the black variety, you could understand that E was fascinated by this dark murky bowl of beans in water. Every time he saw it he said, “it’s eating everything in its path” in the sort of voice he might hear on one of his B-grade horror movies, and making jokes about the creature from the black lagoon.

The recipe that had provided ample temptation for soaking black beans was Michael’s Black Bean Soup with Avocado from Where’s the Beef? As dark and murky as the soaking beans, but far tastier. Black bean soup appears in the blogosphere quite regularly but I was attracted to this version by the addition of avocado which gave a pleasingly creamy contrast to the smoky spicy soup.

We found that a little avocado went a long way but I didn’t feel the need for yoghurt or cheese which I might usually add to such a soup. I was also amused by the thought that the fluoro green avocado did look a little like creatures emerging from the black lagoon. Well that's my excuse for the camera refusing to focus properly!

I changed the spices slightly and after seeing Jen’s recipe for Espresso Black Bean Soup I decided to add molasses for added depth of flavour and darkness rather than sugar. We ate it with a good dense sourdough bread but it would also go very well with cornbread, especially if you have cute cactus pans like Susan at Fat Free Vegan.

It tasted superb! This is a hearty nutritious vegan meal and so I am sending it to Suganya of Tasty Palettes for her Vegan Ventures II event which she is holding this November to celebrate National Vegan Month.

Black Bean and Avocado soup
(adapted from Ken Charney, via Where’s the Beef?)
Serves 5-6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp cumin powder
1 chipotle chilli (in adobo sauce), finely chopped
2 cinnamon sticks (I used ½ tsp ground cinnamon)
1 tbsp molasses
½ cup chopped coriander (cilantro)
5 chopped tomatoes
4 cups cooked black bean (simmered 60-90 min)
500ml cooking liquid from beans (or hot water)
500ml hot water
2 tsp vegie stock powder
1-2 ripe but firm avocadoes, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Extra coriander to serve (optional)
Salt to taste

In a large pot, heat the oil and fry the onion for about 5 minutes or until it's soft. Add garlic, cumin, chipotle chilli, cinnamon sticks, molasses and coriander and cook another minute or two, stirring frequently. (or as I did, you can fry onions and then the spices in a smaller pot while the black beans are still simmering, and then add onion mixture to large pot of beans.)

Add beans and tomatoes and stir to combine. Cook a few minutes and then pour in the liquids and stock powder (or stock if you prefer). Bring to the boil and then simmer for about 20-30 minutes.

Using a hand held blender, partly puree the soup. How much you puree it is up to your personal preference but I can advise that it is great with a bit of texture rather than completely smooth! (Or if you don’t have a hand held blender you could either use a potato masher or tip some of the soup into a food processor or blender.) Check seasoning.

Toss the chopped avocados in the lime juice. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with the avocados spooned on top of the soup. Sprinkle with chopped fresh coriander if desired

On the stereo:
Covers … Death in June - Down in June

Wednesday 5 November 2008

PPN #88 Roasted Asparagus, Tomato and Caper Pasta

When searching for recipes for my recent post about asparagus I came across Sexy Spring Pasta at Karina's Kitchen: Recipes from a Gluten Free Goddess. Amazingly, I had the ingredients … and more! It intrigued me as something a bit different to the usual pasta dishes I have tried. When I said this to E, he commented that there is nothing wrong with the usual!

I loved this green and vinegary dish but I am sorry to report E was a tad lukewarm about it. He thought the asparagus should have been cooked a bit more but I liked it with a little crispness.

Both of us, however, were interested in the capers. Yes, those funny little bitter pellets in a vinegary solution in a tall thin jar at the back of the fridge which are rarely touched. I gave E a taste. He asked what they were and I didn’t really know. Capers! But what are capers?

According to Wikipedia, capers are the buds of a perennial spiny shrub that is native to the Mediterranean region. They were used by the Ancient Greeks and Romans for medicinal purposes to protect against rheumatism and to treat strangury (bladder problems) and inflammation. Capers are mentioned in the Bible and are common ingredients in Mediterranean cooking. In fact they are used in salads, pizzas and pasta sauces. So it was new to us, but not so unusual after all to put capers in a pasta sauce.

Karina simply used asparagus and tomato in her pasta. I added some spring onion and silverbeet (chard) that I had in the fridge needing to be used. But I did follow her advice to add sultanas (raisins) which seemed counter-intuitive but they worked. The quantities of vegetables are quite flexible and I am sure other quick cooking vegetables could be used. Apologies that my recipe is not quite as voluptuous as Karina's because it is not really my way - but do check out her charming style! And you could try gluten free pasta which worked for her but I am not game after my attempt with mung bean pasta.

I’d recommend this as an easy Sunday night dinner. Or any night you want a simple pasta dish. So I am sending it to Ruth of Once Upon a Feast for this week’s Presto Pasta Nights.

Roasted Asparagus, Tomato and Caper Sauce
(adapted from Karina)
Serves 2

Pasta for two people
A small bunch of asparagus, trimmed and chopped
150-250g cherry tomatoes, halved (or larger tomatoes, chopped)
2 spring onions, finely chopped
3-4 silverbeet (chard) leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon chilli paste
2-4 good sized cloves of garlic, chopped
1 heaped tablespoon capers
2 tablespoons sultanas (raisins)
4 tablespoons fruity extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Sea salt & fresh ground pepper, to taste
fresh basil torn (or 1 teaspoon dried basil)
parmesan cheese shavings to serve (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200 C (400 F). Prepare vegetables and toss with remaining ingredients (except pasta and parmesan). Roast in oven for about 10-15 minutes. Check asparagus and silverbeet is not overdone while cooking.

Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package instructions until al dente.

Serve pasta mixed or topped with sauce. Top with parmesan shavings, if desired. (Or toasted pine nuts for a vegan alternative.)

On the stereo:
Faraway places [exotica compilation] – Various Artists

Monday 3 November 2008

Chocolate cake for our boys

On the weekend, we had cake at a small family afternoon tea to remember our boys’ anniversary. I made a melt and mix chocolate chunk mud cake which, among many other dishes, my mum had made for me this time last year when I had been in dire need of comfort, strength and nourishment. This is a rich chocolate cake with dense moist crumbs and soft chunks of chocolate throughout.

Celebrating the birthday of twins is hard at the best of times but harder when they aren’t with us. I was inspired by the idea of chocolate candles which I saw Katie make with great pizzazz on Apple and Spice. I decided that a chocolate candle each and a name would be just right for the cake. Hence I would need to ice (or frost) the cake to give a base for the decorations.

Searching my blog made me aware of how rarely I ice a cake, other than when I have made kiddie birthday cakes. For this rich cake I needed something more appropriate than just icing sugar and water. The recipe for the mud cake came from but for unknown reasons it has been removed so I couldn’t find the ganache which was suggested as an option in the recipe. I finally found a simple ganache in How to Be a Domestic Goddess. Nigella knows her chocolate and it was simple and delicious. I had thought it would just cover the top of the cake but there was plenty for the sides as well.

To make the chocolate candles I traced the outline of the cake tin to check I had the right size, drew the outline of candles on a sheet of baking paper and flipped it over and placed on a tray. (I also wrote the names on the paper which was only helpful in thinking about size rather than being able to trace it when I flipped it – although if I was clever I could have traced the writing back to front and have a smoother presentation when I turned it over.) I chose white chocolate to stand out against the dark ganache.

I have a thin nozzle that I use for writing on cakes but have not used it for chocolate. Worried about how it would go, I bought a larger nozzle but found that the thin nozzle was best. I traced the outline with white chocolate and filled the ‘flame’. Then I added some coloured powder to colour the chocolate and used a spoon to fill the outline. I think I was meant to wait for the outline to cool but I didn’t have the patience. But 1 did place the candles on the tray in the fridge overnight to harden. The next day I flipped the candles so the smooth side faced up and used a spoon to spread a little melted white chocolate over the flame. Then I sprinkled some red and yellow sparkles over the flame. Again I placed the candles in the fridge for a few hours to harden up the chocolate.

I spread the ganache over the cake only a few hours before the afternoon tea and then placed the candles and names on the soft icing. When we served the cake, it had sat out in the mild sunshine for an hour or so which made it easier to cut the cake because by then the chocolate candles had softened slightly. The cake was absolutely delicious but very rich. I forgot to take a photo of the cake til the next day but have included it here so you can see how densely moist and chocolately it was. I served it with cream and strawberries.

As well as cake, we also had a few favourite foods. I made grubs and pumpkin scones specially for the afternoon tea. The previous day had been Halloween and E had requested something special to celebrate. I had decided to make cupcakes with a sticky toffee pudding mixture with pumpkin cream cheese frosting. It was a good combination but the cakes are so rich that in future I would only bake them as mini-muffins rather than full sized muffins.

The pumpkin frosting was a challenge. It took quite a bit of food colouring to get a nice orange colour but seemed ridiculously thin and runny rather than fluffy. I ended up just taking a couple of cups of the frosting mixture and adding icing sugar to that – quite a lot of frosting was thrown out which seemed such a waste. Next time I think I would halve the recipe. Finally I used some chocolate icing to do some spooky decorations for the cake. I was particularly inspired by the faces on Not Quite Nigella’s goblin pies (and if you want to see some really scary Halloween fare, you should check out her Halloween party post).

The afternoon tea was delicious in our sunny backyard. It was not without some sadness but it was good to be able to remember our boys. And I was more than happy to be able to share out the leftovers among members of my family.

Melt-and-mix chocolate chunk mud cake
(From Janelle Bloom in Super Food Ideas - December 2005 , Page 115)

200g butter, chopped
300g good-quality dark chocolate
¼ cup hot water
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup caster sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
¾ cup self-raising flour (sifting is optional)


½ cup (125ml) cream
125g dark chocolate

Preheat oven to 160°C. Grease a deep 20cm round cake pan. Line base with baking paper. (Line it well because otherwise cake sticks to the tin when you take it out after it has cooled.)

Place butter, 200g of chopped chocolate and hot water in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave, uncovered, on high for 1 minute. Stir and return to microwave for an additional minute. Stir well and most of the lumps should melt (and it doesn’t matter if a few lumps are unmelted but you can microwave a little longer if really needed). Add cocoa and stir until smooth. Stir in vanilla, caster sugar and egg. Add flour and chocolate chunks and stir gently to combine.

Pour batter into prepared cake tin. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre has moist crumbs clinging (mine was in for another 15 minutes). Cool cake completely in the pan. When cooled remove to a plate.

Dust with icing sugar or spread with chocolate ganache. To make chocolate ganache, heat cream and dark chocolate gently in microwave til almost melted. Stir remaining lumps in until mixture is smooth. Pour ganache over cake and spread evenly over top and sides with a butter knife. To do chocolate candles, see notes above.

The recipe says that this cake keeps well for up to 1 week stored in an airtight container. But this is one cake that you will have trouble keeping that long!

On the Stereo:
Dick’s Picks Vol 4: The Grateful Dead

Sunday 2 November 2008

Asparagus Adulation and two recipes

Asparagus inspires gentle thoughts
Charles Lamb

When I looked up asparagus in Yann Lovelock’s Vegetable Book which was published in 1972, he wrote that it ‘has lost much of its former popularity’. This makes sense to me because growing up in the 1970s, I don’t remember asparagus as anything other than a soggy tinned vegetable. Recently I was at my mum’s house and she pan fried some fresh asparagus and served it with good bread and cheese for lunch. Most delicious! But such a meal would never have been contemplated in my childhood. Not in my memory anyway!

But at some stage it has had a great resurgence in popularity. I remember eating it in student households in the mid-1990s because my housemate used to call it ‘sparrows’ guts’. These days it is one of the joys of spring for me, so I decided to celebrate its current abundance by investigating some history and trivia.

The asparagus is a member of the lily family (also the family of onions, garlic and leeks). It has grown wild in the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor since ancient times. Unlike most vegetables it is a perennial which can produce edible spears for 20 to 30 years. It has long been prized for its medicinal and vegetable qualities. Before being a food, it was lauded as a medicine for many problems from the prevention of bee stings to heart trouble, dropsy, and toothache!

Asparagus seems to date back to ancient Egyptian times with ‘something like it’ painted on the murals dating from the 3rd millennium BC and is said to have been cultivated as an offering to the gods. The Greeks loved it but it was the Romans who cultivated it for cooking. Wikipedia notes that there is a recipe for cooking asparagus in the oldest surviving book of recipes, Apicius’s third century AD De re coquinaria, Book III. I was amused by’s claim that ‘mushy asparagus is a culinary crime, and the Emperor Augustus was said to have ordered executions to be carried out "quicker than you can cook asparagus."’ This Roman saying appears in many asparagus histories but only on is it linked to executions which I can’t help thinking might have been the punishment for mushy asparagus.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the popularity of cultivated asparagus declined in Europe. Colin Spencer mentions that it was thought that the barbarians had destroyed all the asparagus fields. Then in the Middle Ages it regained its popularity either in 1300 or in the 1700s depending on whom you read! King Louis XIV reputedly dubbed it the ‘King of Vegetables’. He grew asparagus in greenhouses so he could eat it year round. Louis XV’s mistress Madame de Pompadour with her eagerness for aphrodisiac foods, was rather keen on asparagus.

The most memorable modern description of the wonders of asparagus I have encountered, comes from Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. She describes the fresh stems as having ‘the tight, shiny sex appeal of dressed-up matrons on the dance floor of a Latin social club.’ It seems impossible for there to be any discussion of asparagus without mentioning sex and urine.

Both Gerard and Culpeper wrote of asparagus ‘increasing seed and stirring up lust’. It reportedly has appeared throughout the ages in love poems, aphrodisiac dishes and erotic literature such as the Karma Sutra. On the NichollsWorth, Darryl Holliday claims that ‘because of its shape and sensual appeal, nuns who feared it would excite the senses and imaginations of young ladies banned asparagus from girls' schools in the 19th century.’

As for the strong pong associated with the urine as a result of eating asparagus, it seems that this affects everyone who eats it, but that this has long been a matter for speculation about who it affects and why. My choice quote here is from Marcel Proust, who claimed that asparagus "...transforms my chamber-pot into a flask of perfume." Enough said!

My favourite way to eat asparagus is au natural. Steam it in the microwave til just cooked and squeeze a bit of lemon juice on it. Briefly sautée it in a pan over hot heat. Give it to me in a salad, please. I recently tried a miso sauce over asparagus. It had a strong salty miso taste. I preferred less cover-up on my asparagus. On the other hand, E really liked the asparagus cooked in this sauce – he tells me that asparagus is usually just green sticks but this jazzed it up a bit. Seems it will please some who have not yet learned to love asparagus for its lovely fresh flavours. So I have included it below for those types. It went well with Pamela’s Potato, Tomato and Onion Gratin

However, I was more taken by Haalo’s recent elegant White and Green Asparagus Tart. It looked lovely but I was surprised to hear that white asparagus is a result of growing asparagus in the dark. I don’t see the point. Colours enthuse me and Expatriate Chef’s photo of green and purple asparagus did inspire me. I had visions of finding purple asparagus in Melbourne but it was not to be. Besides, Colin Spencer claims that green asparagus tastes best. But I was now keen on making an asparagus tart. I remembered seeing Susan’s Asparagus and Mushroom Quiche many months ago and loving her wheel-like display of asparagus.

With this in mind, I sought a tart or quiche recipe but in the end didn’t have the energy for pastry and decided to try an Alison Holst recipe for a self-crusting quiche. I have made these before where the flour is mixed into the filling and sinks to the bottom during cooking to form a crust. It has worked before but not this week. However, it tasted fantastic. The filling had potato which is fine accompaniment to asparagus and a few other vegies. It was best the second night when I did a nice green salad to serve with it – tomato, cucumber, capsicum and rocket with some balsamic and olive oil. But even just served with beetroot and apple chutney the first night it was nothing to be sneezed at.

I have included the recipes for the Grilled Miso Asparagus and Crustless Asparagus and Potato Quiche below, plus a list of ideas for other asparagus recipes. Asparagus has such a short season that it begs to be flaunted and featured. It is not possible to substitute the tinned stuff. Out of season, broccoli is a great substitute but peas and capsicum can also do the trick.

Asparagus-centric recipes from my blog:
Asparagus, artichoke and wild rice salad
Asparagus, capsicum and rocket salad
Asparagus, mint and lemon risotto
Asparagus sauce
Lentil salad with haloumi and asparagus
Spring risotto soup

Other recipes from my blog using asparagus:
Cool green spring soup
Orange, berry and green salad
Curried cashew and vegetable soup
Roasted vegetable pasta
Thai style vegetable salad with noodles
Fried rice
Peasant potato salad

Tempting asparagus recipes from around the blogosphere:
Asparagus ravioli – 28 Cooks
Asparagus with roasted garlic sauce – Fat Free Vegan
Char-grilled asparagus courgette and haloumi salad – Cooksister
Roasted asparagus tapenade – Have Cake Will Travel
Roasted asparagus with creamy tahini peanut dipping sauce – Kalyn’s Kitchen
Sexy spring pasta with roasted asparagus and tomato – Karina’s Kitchen: recipes from a gluten free goddess

I am sending the quiche to Kalyn for Weekend Herb Blogging. This week marks the 3rd anniversary of this weekly event encouraging bloggers to blog about herbs, fruits and vegetables. A fine achievement! It will also mark Kalyn passing on the gauntlet to Haalo of Cook (Almost) Anything at Least Once. Haalo (a Melbourne blogger) regularly posts about curious and amazing new foods such as peas in purple pods and is sure to continue the great work of Kalyn.

Crustless Asparagus and Potato Quiche
(adapted from Alison Holst’s Meals without Meat)
Serves 4

3 small potatoes (about 200g), diced
1 tsp olive oil
4 large silverbeet (chard) leaves, shredded
½ medium carrot, grated
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
3 spring onions, finely chopped
1 bunch (200g) asaparagus, ends snapped off
½ cup plain yoghurt
½ cup milk
3 eggs
½ cup gruyere cheese, grated
½ cup tasty cheese, grated
½ cup self raising flour

Simmer diced potato for 10-15 minutes til soft. Wilt silverbeet leaves, carrot, garlic and spring onion in oil in a medium hot fry pan for 2-5 minutes (until just soft). Lightly steam asparagus spears. Cut to fit halfway across your flan dish (NB if they are just a little too big, they will shrink when cooking). Chop the trimmings from the spears.

Mix all ingredients except asparagus spears and flour together in a large mixing bowl. If you want to aim for a crust to appear, Alison advises to only just mix in the flour at the end.

Pour into a greased 20-23cm flan dish (I used a 20cm cake tin – Alison said not to use a flan dish with a push out bottom). Arrange spears on top of mixture with cut ends in centre and heads at the edge to create a star or spokes pattern.

Bake at 220 C for 20-30 minutes for a 23cm dish and 30-40 minutes for 20 cm dish. It is cooked when golden brown on top and firm to touch. Serve with chutney and/or green salad.

Grilled Miso Asparagus
(source unrecorded in my notebook)
Serves 2

1 bunch (about 200g) asparagus, trimmed
1 tbsp white miso
1 tsp agave syrup
1 tbsp tamari
1 tbsp mirin
1 tsp sesame oil

Mix all ingredients except asparagus. Steam asparagus lightly. Toss in sauce and place on chargrill (or very hot frypan) for about 1 minute. Serve with remaining sauce.

On the Stereo:
Grateful Dead (skull and roses): Grateful Dead