Monday 29 June 2009

Club Penguin Birthday Cake

It’s been a while since I made a fun novelty cake. A year, in fact, because the last year has been so draining. But as Maddy’s birthday came around again, I offered to make a cake. We decided to make a Club Penguin cake because this is one of her favourite websites at the moment. I was pleased with the end result because it was created from looking at pictures on the web rather than following any guidelines, so I thought I would share my story of making the cake for anyone looking for tips.

It took a little organisation to get down to Geelong early with Sylvia in tow and decorate the cake – ably assisted by Maddy and Grace – before the lunchtime party. E was feeling poorly and stayed at home in bed. So my mum was invaluable in looking after Sylvia and walking her in the pram so I could concentrate on the cake. She even finished off the cake while I fed Sylvia.

I enjoy having the kids helping me because it gives them extra pride in the cake but this was not a cake they could help a lot with because it needed fiddly work filling icing in small areas. But Maddy and Grace helped with brushing crumbs, mixing icing and decorating the little cakes that we used for the candles. It was a mess but I was amused by such youthful exuberance.

Even with Sylvia being so well-behaved (until we left my mum’s place) my mum and I were a little late for the party. (My dad had already taken the party girl home.) I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the cake and pavlova and tarts in the back seat of the car when I we went from my mum’s to Susie’s place. I was quite worried what my car might look like if I had to brake suddenly. Fortunately we got there with all intact.

As usual there was heaps of good food. I also took along the gluten free brownies. Susie made a plateful of cute tea cups out of tic toc biscuit saucers topped by a marshmallow, a freckle and half a lifesaver for a handle (see the picture on my GF brownies post). My mum made some beetroot and goats cheese tarts, a delicious quince cake and a pav as well as the family's latest favourite GF cupcakes. (I even had to take one home for E who loves them.) Susie’s mother-in-law made her trademark trifle.

The party was lots of fun. Maddy loved her cake. This was the party for family so Maddy still had lots of fun and food to look forward to with her friends at her bowling party during the week. My sister Fran amused us when she arrived with her partner John and his parents because they had run into them on the drive down (not literally). My little nieces Grace and Ella had Arthur bear with them who was visiting from kindergarten. There were quite a few little kids about including my brother’s baby Cooper crawling about and my oldest niece Quin who was enjoying playing with the Hannah Montana wig.

It was Sylvia’s first party. She had a lovely time in a black watch tartan dress and purple stripey tights. I couldn’t resist giving you a little peek! When we arrived she slept for a while in the midst of the bustle and then woke and got lots of cuddles and photos. But this is a food blog, so enough about my wee girl. Here is the low down on the cake:

How to make the Club Penguin birthday cake

As usual, I made the cake the day before. This is easier for handling the cake as well as meaning I don’t have to rush so much on the day. The cake I made was the same as the one I used for my Green Gourmet Giraffe Cake. I made it all chocolate so I used 3 tbsp of cocoa and omitted the lime flavourings.

I baked one lamington tray (28 x 18cm or 11 x 7 inch) cake with wheat flour and set aside about a third of the butter/sugar/egg mixture to add gluten free flour instead of wheat flour. The gluten free mixture went into the mini muffin pans and made about 20. This was very useful in having 7 cupcakes for candles and for distracting the girls with decorating these while I concentrated on icing the penguin. We also had some gluten free cakes for Grace to eat while Maddy was sampling the trimmings of the large. She loved them despite me forgetting to add baking powder so they weren’t well risen.

The first task was to draw the penguin picture on an A4 sheet of paper – this is about the size of the lamington tray cake. I then searched for a skewer to punch the pattern onto the cake. My mum didn’t have any! We looked for something sharp and thin. She finally found the tool that you can see Maddy holding above the picture. I pricked the outlines of the picture onto the cake and then took the paper off. It looked a little like a join the dots picture.

Place your cake on the plate you will use. My mum had a lovely happy birthday plate we were able to use. But I have previously used a flat baking tray – if it is coloured from frequent use, you can cover it with foil. Once, the cake was in place, I used a sharp knife to trim the edges to get the penguin shape. Then we used a dry pastry brush to clear away as many crumbs as possible – so they don’t get mixed up in the icing (frosting) mixture.

Next we mixed the icing. I just mix icing sugar (confectioners sugar), butter and water but we found that this mixture was too yellow for the white part of the picture (see the comparison in the photo) so I had to mix just icing sugar and water for this one. I made a fairly thick paste so it was a little difficult to spread. But I found that it kept its shape this way and could be smoothed with a knife dipped in hot water. For yellow and blue icing I just used a few drops of liquid colouring. The yellow icing for the feet was a little runny and kept pooling on the plate.

I used the pricks over the cake to get the outlines for the different colours. I spread on the white, then yellow and then blue colours. Once the icing was on, I used the knife in hot water to smooth it all. The most challenging bit was around the edges of the flippers. My mum did some smoothing and said she found it easier to use a wet finger to spread some of the more difficult areas rather than the knife.

Then it was time for the final touches. I used two dark smarties for the eyes. Any round dark lollies or candy would probably do. I also used a sharp clean knife to make the line across the mouth on the yellow beak. Once we got to my sister’s place we put the little cakes around and stuck the candles in them.

On the stereo:
Pink (can’t remember the name of her album that the girls were playing but there was a fight over it)

Sunday 28 June 2009

Awesomely Delicious GF Pumpkin Brownies

This weekend it was my niece, Maddy’s, birthday party. It was a great opportunity to take down a batch of awesomely delicious gluten free brownies for my gluten free niece and sister to sample.

I have been searching for a good, simple, vegan gluten-free brownie. It is not that I have vegan gluten free friends and family to cook for. Rather, I love my chocolate baking so much that it matters that I have a good recipe on hand for all occasions. These brownies are exactly what I had in mind. Dark, dense, fudgy, decadent and yet using flours many of us have in our cupboards (rice and corn flours) and replacing eggs with pumpkin. There is even a nut-free option. How much better could it get!

I first made them a few weeks back when my mum gave me some pumpkin and loved them so much that they didn’t last long. I took some to my friend, Cheryl’s, place when I went for lunch. They are rich enough that a tiny square is all you need, although you might find yourself wanting more because they are so good. Even the mixture tastes so good that there is no concern about them being undercooked. The first time I baked them 20 minutes and the second time I baked them 40 minutes (to get a little more chewy crispness on the top). Both times they tasted excellent.

A few notes on the ingredients. The recipe had been posted by Hannah and Sarah. Hannah had used pumpkin but Sarah had used banana. I find mashed pumpkin easier to come by in my kitchen than banana but would like to try the latter too. The first time I used regular cocoa and the second I used dutch cocoa. It was far darker and richer the second time around, so I would be happy enough with regular cocoa in future. The nuts are optional and good with or without. The second time I left them out because I was taking them to a kid’s party. I also substituted cornflour (or cornstarch) for potato starch which worked fine.

There was a fine spread at the party (you can see some of it in the photo) and we were all spoilt for choice. My gluten free sister and niece liked the brownie but found it very rich. I still find it very moreish and was happy to take a few leftover pieces home. Actually took quite a swag of goodies home but Sylvia beckons so I will write about that later when I tell you about the birthday cake!

Awesomely Delicious GF Brownies
(Adapted from What Smells So Good and Bitter Sweet)

⅔ cup cocoa powder
⅓ cup corn flour (also known as cornstarch)
⅓ cup white rice flour
½ teaspoon salt (optional)
⅓ cup granulated sugar
⅓ cup canola oil
⅓ cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup mashed pumpkin (or 1 large banana)

1 tsp ground wattleseed or coffee
1 tsp vanilla
¼ cup chopped peanuts or other nuts
⅓ cup choc chips or chopped chocolate

Grease and line a 15 x 15 cm square cake tin (this is what I have but it was a slightly bigger tin in the original recipe). Preheat oven to 180 C.

Combine the pumpkin, oil, brown sugar oil and vanilla (if using) in a small bowl with a fork. Mix remaining ingredients into a mixing bowl and add the pumpkin mixture. Stir to combine.

Spoon into prepared tin and smooth top with the back of a spoon. Bake for 20-40 minutes, depending if you want it more fudgy (20 min) or crumbly (40 min). It should be a little cooked and crispy on top but I didn’t bother with a skewer as it is ok if fudgy inside. Cool in the tin.

On the stereo:
Electro playlist: various artists

Saturday 27 June 2009

Soup and Cake for Lunch

Yesterday I was wondering what Jarvis Cocker thought about the death of Michael Jackson. Sylvia and I had a relaxing day after a busy week. We had done a little socialising, been into my office, had her 4 month check and immunisations. But yesterday we spent most of the day at home. It was a day to hang the washing on the line, make soup and listen to talkback on the radio.

Everyone was talking about the death of Michael Jackson as though it was the most important thing to happen last week. Even more important than UteGate, our weird and wonderful Australian political scandal where the leaders of the government and opposition spent a lot of hot air telling each other to resign over cronyism and a faked email.

While I am sad when any human dies, I didn’t think the death of Michael Jackson was as momentous as some of the media commentators would have us believe. I was never a fan. Of course I tried to do the moonwalk but never even bothered to perfect it. The song I remember most fondly is Ben, a sweet song about a rat. I think I liked it particularly because it reminds me of going to see sentimental movies such as Storm Boy and Benji on school excursions. I think that Ben was also on the album my dad bought, thinking it was a woman singing!

E mentioned that no one does covers of Michael Jackson songs. No covers but I can think of a spoof that amused me when it was a hit. Weird Al Yankovic’s single Eat it was number 1 in Australia. I loved the line “Have some more yogurt, have some more spam / It doesn't matter if it's fresh or canned / Just eat it”. One of the high profile Michael Jackson stories that comes to mind for me is when Jarvis Cocker wiggled his bottom at Jacko and ended up in jail overnight. So you see why I was wondering about what Jarvis thinks now!

But when it comes to posterity, I feel that the Farrah Fawcett haircut has every bit as much claim to history as the moonwalk. It seemed sad that no one was talking about her. When I was a child Farrah Fawcett was the picture of glamour for young girls like me. So I was more saddened by her death on the same day as Jacko.

These were some of my thoughts as I listened to the radio while I ate lunch. Sylvia was kicking on the rug with her toys and I sat beside her to eat. While many days I have a dull lunch of peanut butter sandwiches, I was pleased with my efforts yesterday. I made soup and had home made cake and fruit after.

The soup was an easy one, inspired by my recent onion soup and a yen to try cooking with that beastly vegetable, celeriac. It is one of those unusual vegetables that fascinates me but I am never sure what to do with it. I had found its ugly face impossible to resist in the supermarket so I had to use it.

I roasted the vegetables and pureed them with the last of my home made stock from the freezer. I added some yoghurt but next time I might try milk or cream because the sourness of yoghurt was a little strong for the subtle root flavours, although I did like the creaminess. The celeriac had a pleasant nutty mild celery flavour. It was an easy soup to make while looking after Sylvia because it required very little attention (unlike my wee girl).

After the soup I had a slice or two of Cheese and Apple Cake. I had seen it on Not Quite Nigella. It is worth reading Lorraine’s post for the amusing reflections on historic recipes. She found this recipe in a National Trust cookbook. Lorraine used pears but I fancied apples. I omitted the almonds but have put walnuts in the recipe as I think I might use those next time.

The idea of cheese in a sweet cake intrigued me. But despite the strong smell of cheese from the cake box each time I open it, the cake does not taste as strongly of the vintage cheddar cheese as I had hoped. Nor could I taste the apple much either. In fact the cake was mostly buttery and sweet. Just E’s type of cake but not so much mine. I’d prefer the apple and cheese without the sugar. Although I did like the occasional chewy bits of cheese. It is just the right sort of cake to have for an afternoon tea with a cuppa. Or to sandwich between some soup and an apple for lunch.

Celeriac, Potato and Watercress Soup
Serves 3-4

1 celeriac, peeled and chopped
4 small potatoes, chopped
1 onion, peeled and halved
slurp of olive oil
500ml stock
1 cup water
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 bunch watercress, roughly chopped
¼ cup yoghurt or cream or milk

Place celeriac, potato, and onion in roasting dish. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle some seasoning over it. Roast at 220 for about an hour or til soft. Trasnfer to large saucepan. Add stock, water and garlic. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add watercress and stir a couple of minutes till wilted. Puree with hand held blender. Stir in yoghurt, cream or milk.

Cheese and Apple Cake
(Adapted from the National Trust Historic Cake Recipes via Not Quite Nigella)

125g butter
180g caster sugar
2 eggs
225g green apples (I used 2 small granny smiths), peeled
120g good cheddar grated
3 tablespoons plain yoghurt
60g chopped walnuts (optional)
1 cup wholemeal spelt flour (or wheat flour)
1⅓ cups white wheat flour
⅔ cup cornflour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp baking powder

Heat the oven to gas mark 4/180 C/350 F. Grease and line a 2lb-loaf tin.

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time. Grate apples over bowl so the juice goes in as well as the flesh. Discard the cores. Stir in cheese and yoghurt and walnuts if using. Fold in flours, bicarb soda and baking powder till just combined.

Spoon batter into the prepared tin. Bake for about 1 hour until a skewer inserted comes out cleanly. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

On the stereo:
New Wave playlist – various artists

Friday 26 June 2009

Hellenic Republic – land of the lotus eaters

Update 2021: Hellenic Republic has now closed

Recently we have had the pleasure of watching the two series of the 1970s British television series, the Lotus Eaters. The title is derived from Greek Mythology where those who ate from the Lotus Tree lost the desire to return home. When we first booked to eat out at Hellenic Republic in East Brunswick for E’s birthday (and Sylvia’s first restaurant meal), we made many jokes about being Lotus Eaters. Having eaten there twice this year, I can confirm that it is that good! Hellenic Republic seems to be riding on the zeitgeist. The culinary genius behind the restaurant is George Colombaris who has become a household name in Australia thanks to his stint as a judge on Masterchef Australia. One friend recently said she would leave her husband for him. He has inspired such a following with his passion for food. We first visited in April before the Masterchef phenomenon, but when we visited last weekend with my siblings, all the staff wore t-shirts saying ‘George says, yeah’ to advertise a charity cooking event. There was no ignoring his celebrity status, which seems well-deserved when you taste the excellent cooking. 

The space is furnished with an elegant minimalism. It is large and light with the kitchen open to the public and wine on tap (so my sister tells me). The menu is interpersed with choice words of wisdom from Greek mothers on the menu. Look up and you will see large fisherman baskets and rows of wooden chairs hang from the ceiling. But what catches the eye are the tables crowded with boisterous families sharing plates of good food. It nicely reflects the menu’s modern take on Greek taverna food. 

The service was excellent. The staff were friendly, prompt and ready to help with any query. Visiting with a baby in a capsule and also with my nephew who needed a high chair posed no problems. And the prices were quite reasonable for the quality of the food. On both visits with family, we arrived first and, by the time the group had arrived, I had the order ready. It is a menu made for sharing plates of food. On E’s birthday my mum was a little late but my dad had taken the wrong train and didn’t arrive until champagne was being served. Excellent timing! 

We had a lovely spread of pita bread, tzatziki, kefalograviera saganaki (grilled haloumi served warm with peppered figs), fasolakia (green beans with feta and pine nuts), patzari (beetroot roasted in cumin served with yoghurt), gemista (vegetables stuffed with a herbed rice) and krokos yaourti briam - greek vegetable stew with saffron yoghurt. Stand out dishes were the saganaki which was sizzling hot and crisp, and the wonderful textures and flavours of crisp green beans with pine nuts and feta. We didn’t have dessert on that night as E’s birthday cake was waiting at home. Last weekend, we had already ordered the olive, pita bread and melitzanosalata (eggplant dip) before my brother Andy arrived with Erica and baby Cooper, and had almost finished it by the time my sister Fran and her partner John blew in. I was too hungry to wait. E was most displeased that I ordered eggplant dip because it is not his favourite vegetable but he gallantly tried it. He pronounced it superb. The dip was silky smooth and smoky and tasted a treat with the wonderful soft chargrilled pita bread. 

Since our last visit I had seen the tiganites patates on other blogs and they looked like the most delicious crispiest chippies which came in a cute claypot lined with retro printed paper. So they were high on my priorities this time. They were as good as I had hoped. I also had to have the green beans with pine nuts and feta again. We also ordered the domathakia (stuffed vine leaves) and lots of lamb spit, pita bread, saganaki and tzatziki. I mention the lamb spit because I hesitated when I asked the waitress if I had ordered enough and she suggested two rather than one lamb spits. Not a good decision for a vegetarian to make! The rest of the table agreed with her and E – emboldened by his eggplant discovery – overcame his lamb-aversion and found he loved the dish. 

I was ready for dessert this time. Possibly because Sylvia, who had slept through her first visit, decided she needed to be in my arms this visit and take it all in. This is great if you are trying to reduce your calories, because a baby in arms slows down the eating. Admittedly, I didn’t do too badly. We ordered loukoumades (greek donuts with nuts and attiki honey) and baklava yianniotiko. The baklava was heavy with walnuts and sugar rather than many layers of pastry soaked in honey. Not my favourite baklava, especially when I bit into the decorative clove. But I loved the donuts. I wasn’t keen after the syrup soaked donuts at Baba. Fortunately Fran had ordered the Hellenic Republic doughnuts before and recommended them. They were crispy fried balls with a fluffy inside (almost as good as the Victoria Market doughnuts) served with a pool of honey at the bottom of the plate. It was heavenly to dip the doughnuts into. 

I am looking forward to another visit to Hellenic Republic. Two excellent meals there have firmly fixed it in my memory as the land of lotus eaters. In years to come, Sylvia can be proud of this being her first restaurant outing.

Hellenic Republic

434 Lygon Street Brunswick East 3057
Tel: 03 9381 1222 

 Update 2021: Hellenic Republic has now closed

Wednesday 24 June 2009

The Amazing Chocolate Cake in a Mug

A few nights back E needed chocolate and I needed little encouragement to try a new chocolate cake recipe. We both had boring snoring work to do on our laptops and I had a mind to avoid mine more than he did. Besides Sylvia wouldn’t sleep so I had her with me in her harness.

E had already decided he would have a hot chocolate but there was no milk. Then he spied the nutella jar but it was empty. So I thought I would surprise him. There are very few cakes that I would attempt to make while carrying Sylvia about. But a 5 minute cake in a mug was possible.

Yes, you heard right! I thought it was a typo when I saw Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella (and yes she of the Ultimate Chocolate Cake Event) posting a Chocolate Mug Cake. Surely she meant to type Chocolate Mud Cake, I thought! I was wrong. She mixed and cooked the cake in the mug in the microwave and ate it with a spoon. Simplicity itself.

When I first tried it, I used yoghurt and decided to make a version with no baking powder. (See the photo below.) Note it came away from the side of the cup when I cooked it 2 minutes but did not in the other photos when I cooked it 1½ minutes. Lorraine’s photo of the cake with baking powder looked like it had exploded in the microwave. But it was a little dense and the yoghurt flavour wasn’t quite right.

Tonight I made it again with milk, less sugar, less cocoa and self raising flour (if you don’t have self-raising flour you just need about half a teaspoon of baking powder). It was excellent. Light, fluffy, chocolatey and even a little undercooked on the bottom, which didn’t matter in a warm cake.

We ate it with spoons with Bach playing in the background. As an aside, one of E’s favourite DVD series at the moment is Classical Destinations. It is a travel show which visits sites with links to famous composers. This week we watched the one about Bach and he raced straight out to buy some of the works featured on the show. As an aside to the aside, my grandfather told us that we are related to Bach so I feel a particular affinity to his music.

Enough asides. Back to the cake. E was most impressed to have a cake appear beside him on the desk. He didn’t finish it the first time when it was a little heavy. But tonight, when I hoped I might have to help him, he ate it all.

I am sure I will be making it again. In fact, this is a dangerous discovery. This must be the ultimate quick-fix chocolate cake! Perfect for cravings, heartbreak and spontaneous dinner parties. Bad for those trying to follow a healthy diet. You don’t even expend much energy doing dishes. This warm chocolate cake is all too easy and tempting. The only saving grace is that it makes such fortunately small portions. Go on. Try it. I dare you to resist!

Chocolate Mug Cake
(adapted from Not Quite Nigella)
Makes 2

4 tablespoons self raising flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 heaped tablespoon Dutch cocoa
4 tablespoons chocolate chips
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil
1 egg

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Lorraine just mixed it in the two mugs to avoid any more dishes than necessary. I used the tablespoon measure to mix which was my contribution towards minimal dishes. Divide batter between two microwave oven proof mugs (no greasing needed). Lorraine put gladwrap (cling film) on hers but I kept forgetting and it cooked ok without it.

Place one cup at a time in the microwave for 1½ to 2 minutes on medium or 50% power. Check after 1 minute and 1½ minutes to see if the cake looks cooked, given that the cake will continue to cook just a little when it comes out.

Cool 5-10 minutes and eat with a spoon. You can serve this with cream or my favourite honey and cinnamon yoghurt but it tastes delicious unadorned.

On the stereo:
J.S. Bach’s St Matthews Passion (Highlights)

Tuesday 23 June 2009

Pleasing pumpkin muesli slice

I have been seeking a muesli slice to love and it seems my search is now over. I saw celine’s pumpkin molasses slice a while back and was reminded of it by Vegetation. When my mum gave me a large wedge of pumpkin, I decided it was time to try it. I made a few small changes. It was good but not great. It certainly did not look dark and devlish like Celine’s photo (see the photo below and compare it to the final version of my slice).

I loved the soft orange sweetness of pumpkin in the slice but I needed more fruit and more texture. Sophie, who has recently gave lots of ideas on eating oats, had alerted me to rolled oats being lower GI than oatmeal, so I it seemed sensible to exchange some rolled oats for a lot of the oatmeal. Unfortunately when I checked my dried fruit supplies a few had gone bad and needed to go to the great pantry in the sky. Oats, nuts and dried fruit! It sounded a little like muesli (a.k.a. granola) to me. So I added some seeds and coconut, which I also love in muesli.

In the past I have gone through phases of buying muesli bars but I would love to make my own. However, I have had problems finding a recipe to inspire me. Many seem dry, flapjacks are not quite my thing and I am a little suspicious about recipes which have a cup of muesli because not all mueslis are equal. I love my microwave muesli recipe but don’t make it that often. So I wanted a recipe which uses the components of muesli rather than a pre-mix.

Pumpkin, which is one of my favourite vegetables, is the magic ingredient I had been seeking. It replaces the eggs and most of the oil. I also love that this slice has the dark deep flavours of treacle or molasses. The only other sweetner is honey, which I have been loving lately. The slice is as good as my other favourite healthy slices, Fig and Nut Slice and Fruit Nut and Tahini Slice, but easier.

This is a slice to suit many diets. It can be easily dairy-free, nut-free, vegan, wheat-free. The first time I baked it, I used ½ a cup of wholemeal flour and ½ a cup of buckwheat flour but because my buckwheat flour was claimed by the weevils I used all wholemeal spelt flour on my second attempt. So it was wheat free albeit not gluten free. To make it vegan you could substitute maple syrup or sugar for honey Celine used sucanat, a non-refined cane sugar that I have never encountered but read about on many blogs. If you want a nut-free version, I don’t think the nuts would be missed among all the seeds and fruit. In fact you could use any combination of nuts, fruit and seeds because it is one of those free and easy slices.

The slice is a deep golden-orange colour with lots of interesting seedy textures and soft sweet fruit. I have been needing a healthy, satisfying, easy slice to have around the kitchen while I spend a lot of time at home with Sylvia. I predict that I will be found baking this superb slice often and enjoying it with a cuppa tea.

Other tempting muesli bars:
- Rustic Muesli Bar Bites from Crunchy Green Things
- Muesli Bars from Cook Almost Anything
- Granola Bars from Apple and Spice

Pumpkin Muesli Slice
(Adapted from Have Cake Will Travel)

300-350g pumpkin
⅓ cup treacle or blackstrap molasses
⅓ cup honey or other sweetener
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup rolled oats
½ cup oatmeal
1 cup wholemeal spelt flour or wheat flour
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup prunes , chopped
¼ cup hazelnuts, chopped
¼ cup coconut
1 tbsp each sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds
1 tsp linseeds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger

Preheat oven to 180 C or 350 F. Line and grease a slice tin (18 x 28cm).

Peel and trim pumpkin (I used Jap but Queensland Blue or Butternut pumpkin would be fine). Place in a small plastic tub and cover with a little bit to let out the steam. Microwave for 2-5 minutes til soft (cook for a minute at a time and shake and check pumpkin after each minute). Drain off any excess water and mash with a fork.

Place mashed pumpkin, treacle, honey, oil and vanilla extract into a small bowl and lightly whisk with a fork. Mix remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl. Pour pumpkin mixture in and stir.

Spoon mixture into prepared slice tin and smooth with the back of the spoon. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Cool in tin and then cut into squares or bars.

On the Stereo:
Burial: Death in June

Sunday 21 June 2009

Novice Nutella cupcakes accompanied by guitar

When Sylvia is unsettled in the evening, I often ask E if there is any chance he will be strumming a bit of guitar. Or some days he just picks up the guitar and takes it in to the bed beside the cot. The sound of the guitar will relax her and often put her to sleep, though some days she just squeals along in delight.

It was thanks to E and his guitar that I managed to ice these cupcakes. I had told E I would bake something for him and decided it was time to trial an icing gun I had received for my birthday at the start of the year. It has taken me a while because I have needed a decent stretch of time to work it out and that doesn’t happen a lot these days.

The inspiring moment came when I found a recipe for cupcakes which were decorated with nutella. As a child, I remember buying little sachets of the chocolate hazelnut spread to eat with a little plastic paddle. Even now I quite enjoy eating it straight from the spoon. (I have even made a vegan notella sauce if you want a dairy-free version.) So I knew it had to be good in the cupcakes. It seemed a lot easier to pipe nutella because I didn’t have to mix an icing to the right consistency. But I decided that the nutella wasn’t enough for the frosting. So I made a chocolate frosting. It was a bit dry but worked with the gooey nutella.

Making the cupcakes were fairly straightforward – I made some changes, including accidentally using wholemeal flour instead of white. Finding the time to rev up the icing gun was more tricky. This is where the guitar came in. E strummed away to soothe Sylvia while I piped out the inaugural squiggles.

Squiggles is as good a term as any to describe what I managed to produce. It isn’t as easy as it looks. I felt like a cartoon character with a runaway horse. Whoa boy! You will see the crazy piping in the photo of all my cupcakes. By the last few, I had discovered I needed to lower my expectations. A small but elegant swirl of nutella topped by a hazelnut made me feel quite proud of my creation. Not bad for a girl who was constantly told at school that my assignment was good but needed more work on presentation. Stay tuned for more passionate piping!

The cupcakes were fantastic fresh and warm from the oven but the next day were a little on the dry side. It might be the wholemeal flour but they needed a bit more moisture. Maybe some yoghurt or sour cream rather than milk might help. But with the frosting, they were lovely. In fact E said if he had his druthers he would just eat the frosting off the top and leave the cake. Grrr! My dad came over yesterday so we were able to offer a cupcake with his cuppa. When he left I gave him a containers of my mum's (which came with dahl in it) which was loaded up with cupcakes to take to a football evening at my brother's place on the way home.

Nutella cupcakes
(Adapted from Cupcakes Galore)
Makes 16 cupcakes

125g butter, softened
½ packed cup (100g) dark brown sugar
3 eggs
200g nutella
1 cup (150g) wholemeal self raising flour
⅔ cup (100g) wholemeal spelt flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ cup (60ml) milk

To decorate:
¼ cup choc chips dark
1 tbsp dutch cocoa
1 tbsp walnut oil
¼ cup cream cheese (or more)
1 tbsp golden syrup
200g nutella

Cream butter and sugar and then add eggs one at a time. Beat in nutella and then flours, baking powder and milk in two batches. Spoon into muffin tin lined with paper muffin cups. Bake at 190 C for 20-25 minutes. They are cooked when a skewer inserted comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Make a chocolate frosting by melting the chocolate and then mixing in the cocoa, oil, cream cheese and golden syrup. Spread over cool cupcakes (it was only enough for about 14 or 15 but one or two always disappear when warm out of the oven) and the use an icing nozzle to pipe the nutella over the chocolate frosting. If you don’t have an icing nozzle, then just spread or dollop it over the middle of the chocolate frosting. Either place whole hazelnuts on top or sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts.

On the Stereo:
Dongs of Sevotion: Smog

Saturday 20 June 2009

Bimbos – for the young and old

Sylvia started the day with her new book, Foodie Kids Wear Bibs, and a dance to the new Jarvis Cocker album. She then headed out to Brunswick Street to Bimbos. What a hip young thing! There will be no stopping her once she is walking and talking.

Whereas I feel old when I go to Bimbos because it will always be the Punters Club to me. A.K.A. Punners by the regulars. I would go there occasionally in my student days to see a band. It was a dark and grungy pub with a sticky floor in those days. Now it serves modish pizzas and flavoured vodkas.
For years I wouldn’t go there because it just seemed blasphemous to rename the Punners with such a derogatory name and I still am not keen on the t-shirs with kewpie dolls in stockings and suspenders (just as I didn’t feel I needed to hear about the tattoos on David Caradine ’s genitals when listening to 3RRR radio en route to Brunny Street). My idea of fun is not the same as the owners!

But I have been won over by the chocolate pizza which I had a few years ago. I went there for dessert one night. My memories are of a gooey decadent pizza and the music getting louder and louder as the night wore on. Since then I have only returned for lunch. But I like the bottles hanging from the windows and the bare wooden look with some dark grungy corners remaining and a rooftop space that is crowded in summer. The laminated tables and kewpie dolls add to a little retro atmosphere. (Can you spot the giant kewpie doll on the building facade?)

We were there because E has a new guitar and wanted to get it set up by his favourite guitar repairman. Next to us was a family group with grown daughters. The mum wore a purple velvet dress. Outside a couple in skinny jeans walked past a run down old building adorned with graffiti. A brightly coloured VW Beetle drove by. This is trendy Fitzroy but I have been going to Brunswick Street long enough to feel at home, despite all the changes.

And the pizza was very good. Actually E said his Aglio Olio (garlic, chilli, olive oil, parsley, parmesan) was one of the best pizzas he has had in ages. I was most impressed by the flavours when I tasted it. There must have been at least a bulb of sweet pungent roasted garlic on that pizza. I chose the Zucchine (tomato, mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes and parmesan). It looked so pretty with wafer-thin ribbons of zucchini piled on top and was quite tasty with a generous amount of sauce and mozzarella. The pizza bases are quite thin and mine was a little soggy but nevertheless delicious. The menu had a few interesting vegetarian pizzas with tempting toppings such as halloumi and lemon, taleggio and potato, and pumpkin and soy cheese.

But best of all was the chocolate pizza that we shared at the end of the meal. A much simpler affair than the Mojos dessert pizza. It was a small pizza with Belgium dark chocolate and marscapone. The light pizza base under the melted puddle of creamy chocolate was absolutely delectable. The bill was reasonable and we were able to finish up just in time to leave our one hour parking spot.

On the way home, E dropped me off in Brunswick where my bike was being serviced. I haven’t ridden it for a long time but have been looking forward to flying along the bike tracks on it again. So I set off into a head wind, past the graffiti, past the huge cacti bushes, past the cat on the car bonnet, past the speeding silver train, past the ringing flashing boom gates, past the orange wire lizard on the grey house and home to where E and Sylvia had just arrived 5 minutes earlier. My legs were a little wobbly but I was very glad I had had the chocolate pizza.

Bimbo Deluxe
376 Brunswick Street
Fitzroy Victoria Australia
Tel: 03 94198600

Friday 19 June 2009

Coconut Black-Eyed African Beans - for Refugee Week

I am following up my What does home mean to you? meme with a post on how refugees have enriched our culinary culture.

Australia has a dark history when it comes to non-Anglo immigrants. There are many shameful actions, from the racist attitude towards the Chinese on the goldfields in the 1950s, to the White Australia policy (1901-1973) to the recent Australian tough stance on border protection by the Howard government which was justified by claiming the refugees were throwing their children overboard from their boat. Yet we have benefited from the rich traditions brought to our country by migrants.

We talk about waves of migration in Australian history. There are also waves of refugees. The first wave might be said to be the political refugees who arrived in Australia after participation in Chartism in England and the Irish rebellion. However most refugees have arrived in the latter half of the 20th century.

When we look around the eat streets of Melbourne, we can see evidence of the waves of refugees. Ackland Street in St Kilda has the tempting continental cake stalls and cafes of European refugees after World War II. Victoria Street in Richmond has the fascinating Asian grocery stores and restaurants that were established by the "boat people" in the 1970s following the Vietnamese War. Since the 1980s, Sydney Road in Brunswick has boasted many fine Middle Eastern bakeries and cafes run by refugees from countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The newest wave of refugees are from Africa, especially Sudan, over the past decade. Some great African cuisine can be found in the Ethiopian restaurants of Footscray.

(I took the above photo today of a local Middle Eastern grocery in our part of Sydney Road. I was amazed to notice the work someone had done decorating the trees in the mall and couldn't resist sharing a photo or two of them with you. I am not sure if they have anything to do with refugees but they do illustrate the flowering of the suburb! Ha ha!)

Some of the influences of refugee cuisines can be seen in the food I share on this blog. Today I want to share a dish that indirectly benefited from refugees. It comes from my mum and her volunteer work. Every week she visits me and then goes on to help cook for refugee groups in the next suburb to me. It is great to sit and chat about the different meals that she makes.

One week recently, we were talking about ideas for cooking for big groups of people. I suggested some bean dishes – many vegetarians attend these meals. I have a favourite creamy tomato and black-eyed bean (black eyed pea) dish from Alison Holst called simply African beans. I used to make it a lot when living in student households and had decided to make it again. I am never very organised at soaking beans so I love the black eyed beans in this recipe because they don’t need soaking. Mum looked at the recipe and decided it was a good easy one to try.

When I made it I tried to follow the recipe but discovered I only had a small tin of lite coconut milk rather than coconut cream. So I added more tomato paste. It wasn’t a success because the tomato paste predominated more than it should have. It was edible but not great. I talked to my mum the next day and she said how wonderful her African beans were. She has used passata (sieved tomato puree). It seemed much preferable to tomato paste.

So I decided to try it again. I strayed quite a bit from the recipe. Passata replaced the tomato paste. I used more beans and coconut cream and I added mushrooms. Both E and I loved it. It is creamy, easy and delicious. Fantastic for a vegan or dairy-free diet. We ate it for a few nights in a row. The best way to serve it was with brown rice and roasted Brussels sprouts. Yet another great reason to welcome refugees into our community!

Coconut Black-Eyed African Beans
(adapted from Alison Holst’s Meals without Meat)
serves 6

2 cups dried black eyed beans (I used 400g)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 brown onions, thinly sliced
300g mushrooms, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 x 270g tins of coconut cream
750ml bottle of passata
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
¼ tsp cinnamon

Place beans in a large stock pot with lots of water. Bring to the boil and then simmer for about 40 minutes or till or til beans are nice and soft. Drain.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large saucepan and fry onions over low heat for about 10 minutes till golden brown. Add mushrooms and garlic. Fry another 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and bring to the boil. Add cooked beans and heat. Serve with rice and green vegetables.

Update 2016: Made this again and have updated a couple of photos.  We served it with baby spinach.  I fried my onions for 10 minutes over low heat and they weren't cooked enough so next time I might do it at medium heat. I used an extra tsp of salt (I used salt flakes).

Black eyed beans are also known as black eyed peas.

On stereo:
Further Complications: Jarvis Cocker

Thursday 18 June 2009

What does home mean to you?

In one of my favourite Michael Leunig cartoons the little man says I’m homesick. His wife points out his pants on the bedroom floor and tells him he is home. He looks at them and plaintively repeats himself - I’m homesick. I sometimes think of this cartoon when I crave a warm comforting cocoon to crawl into. There are times when a house is not enough. It is the way we decorate, clutter, and inhabit a space.

Home is a state of mind rather than a place. When I lived in a share house in Melbourne, I remember confusing a housemate when I said I was heading home to my parents’ house. But this is your home, he pointed out. I told him I could have two homes. Not everyone is as lucky as me. Some people must travel far to seek a refuge they can call home.

I have been thinking about home lately because Wendy has tagged me for a meme in which bloggers post 3 photos that represent ‘home’. She is passing on this meme as a way to promote Refugee Week in Scotland (15-21 June), which is about home this year. In fact, Refugee Week in Australia is 14-20 June this year and the theme is Freedom from Fear. Both weeks celebrate the idea of refuge that is sought by people who can no longer feel at home in their own country.

When thinking about three photos I considered what I have done when moving house to make a new place feel like home. I like to feel comfortable in a space. Somewhere to cook, a few cookbooks, some choice music and something to read. I surround myself with special possessions that make me sigh at the beauty or smile at the memories. A home has many layers of meaning and history that are built up over time. Three photos is not much to explore such depth. But here they are:

Home is where I can be comfortable in the kitchen. I can find the knives and forks, the coffee mugs, the sugar and flour. I understand the oven's quirks. I will pick up a tea towel and know where to put away the dry dishes. The kitchen is not just a space for food preparation but a place where I can relax and create, where I can potter and chitchat, where I love the little knick knacks which bring to mind past experiences and travels. In any new home, one of the first tasks is to familiarise myself with the kitchen and ensure the cupboards have some basic foods I can cook.

I thought of photographing my kitchen but it is too cluttered. Instead I chose to show my bread bin. It represents so many aspects of the kitchen that I love – green, beauty, history, good food and utilitarian charm. If you lifted the lid you would see it is full of paper bags rather than bread. We usually keep bread on top of it. But there was no fresh bread in the house today when I took the photo. Instead you can see some of the clutter on the noticeboard behind it. I left it there because it represents the clutter in the kitchen as well as loved postcards. There is never enough room but that is the way I love it.

Years ago my mum commented on my lack of interest in gardening and then observed she wasn’t interested till she had her own house. Now I have our own place, I am much more interested in our garden, albeit not being in green thumb league. This photo is taken in our garden with our special lemon and lime trees and a part of a chair that reminds me of enjoying the relaxing time spent in the garden in warmer weather. Even in cooler weather, I still enjoy being outside to hang the washing on the line or popping outside for a fresh bay leaf for a stew.

It is no accident that I chose a little cat ornament to represent time in the garden. One of the great attractions of the garden is spending time with Zinc. In fact, she often will come to the door and demand our company outside. Once I swore I would never live with a cat, and now it doesn’t feel like home without her. She is often inside, curled up on the bed, gazing at us from upon the stereo, snug against us on the couch. But I particularly love seeing her joy at scampering about the backyard with us.

Lastly I wanted a photo to represent the people in our house. Solitude is nice at times but sharing has such wonderful rewards. I love the sound of the front door as E arrives home from work, sitting down to share a meal, listening to music together, laughing at our silly jokes and of course the gummy smiles of Sylvia on my lap. The photo represents the people who live here, visit us and are remembered in my home and bring me a wealth of community, support, acceptance and comfort.

I am not good at passing on memes but I would like to give others the chance to help raise awareness about refugees. The rules of this meme are:
  • Think about what home means to you.
  • Titled “What Does Home Mean to You?”, post three photos which represent “home” to you and write a little about each one.
  • Include a link to the Refugee Week website
  • Tag five others to do the same.
I am tagging the following five people (but if you don’t have the time or inclination that is fine) and welcome anyone else to join in:

Cindy and Michael of Where’s the Beef?
Another Outspoken Female of Confessions of a Food Nazi
Anh of Food Lover’ Journey
Flower of Flowers at Home
Rachel of Rachel’s Ramblings

Tuesday 16 June 2009

Banana, cranberry and raspberry smoothie

I discovered cranberries-in-fruit-juice in the supermarket on the weekend. This morning they went into a delicious smoothie. At first it seemed too tart but then the honey in the yoghurt asserted itself. I drank it all and wanted more. Sweet, seedy and fruity. Just the way to start the day.

Banana, cranberry and raspberry smoothie
Serves 2

1 banana
130ml cranberries in fruit juice
⅔ cup frozen raspberries
juice of 1 orange
150ml honey and cinnamon yoghurt

Blend and enjoy.

On the stereo:
The World That Summer: Death in June