Saturday 30 April 2011

Royal Wedding chocolate fridge cake

Jamie puts crushed meringue shells in his.  Nigella puts dried pear and glace ginger in hers.  Antony puts ginger nut biscuits, dried blueberries and mixed peel in his.  Fiona puts marshmallows, malted chocolate balls and honeycomb in hers.  Annabel puts rice krispies in hers.  Some Brits call it Tiffin or Chocolate Crunch Cake or Chocolate Biscuit Cake.  Australians call it Hedgehog.  Everyone has one.  All different.  And now Prince William has proved that everyone loves one.

The British press was agog when they found out that Prince William has asked for a chocolate fridge cake for his "groom's cake" for his wedding.  The Observer was baffled at his choice of rich tea biscuits rather than digestives in the cake.  The Independent sniffed that it was "a déclassé sickly-sweet confection".  The Telegraph guessed his might include popping candy.  The Daily Mail was approving.  For me it shows Prince William's lack of pretension.

We watched the wedding last night and Prince William would no doubt have approved of the low brow nature of our celebrations.  We had haggis nachos, $4 sparkling wine and posh fridge cake.  E printed out the Daily Mail's guide to the royal wedding and rang his family who were celebrating in Edinburgh and watching the same BBC footage.  Sylvia stayed up for some of the wedding but was tired and had to retire early.

In Melbourne we didn't have the same level of Royal Wedding fever that seemed to hit the UK.  Though the diehards gathered in Federation Square to watch it on the big screen, we didn't have oodles of souvenirs in the supermarkets, royal cake exhibitions nor a public holiday.  The Royal Family was wary of Aussie humour and banned our local comedians, The Chaser Boys, from airing their satirical take on the wedding on the ABC.  We did have a program musing on the question: "Is the Royal Romance Over?"  Just don't get me started on the Republican referendum in 1999.

It was only in the couple of days before the wedding when I saw Lucy and Cakelaw making wedding cakes, that I thought I might make one for the day.  In fact, one of the reasons I wanted to try Lucy's recipe was that it used cake crumbs and I had some cake trimmings in the freezer leftover from E's birthday cake

Lucy's cake was also far richer than the hedgehog that I grew up eating regularly.  It is more like this vegan hedgehog.  She named hers Posh Chocolate Slab.  It was full of dried fruit, booze, golden syrup and condensed milk, none of which are usually in my version.  I left out the booze - so Sylvia could have a taste - and the dried fruit - because I am a little wary of mixing chocolate and dried fruit.  I added a bit of dried wattleseed - for intensity - and walnuts and coconut - for added texture.

I swithered about whether or not to ice the cake.  Then I decided it was a celebration and a little ganache on top wouldn't go astray.  I made it after I made the nachos while E was bathing and dressing Sylvia.  So on the night, the chocolate topping was lovely and gooey.  I have been keeping the cake in the fridge and it is still wonderfully soft and rich, though E tells me he would prefer it warmer.

With my interest in food, you might not be surprised to hear that, other than loving seeing the London streetscape and inside the magnificent Westminster Abbey, my main hope in watching the royal wedding was to see their wedding cakes.  I didn't get a peek until this morning.  If you are interested, here is where you can see the traditional fruit cake and the chocolate biscuit cake.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time three years ago: Bugs Bunny, Daleks and Carrot Paté
This time four years ago: Why do we need another food blog anyway?

Prince William's Fridge Cake
Adapted from Annabel Langbein via Lucy

250g plain sweet biscuits (I use marie biscuits)
3 cups white chocolate mud cake crumbs
250g dark chocolate
125g butter
1/3 cup condensed milk
2 tbsp cocoa
2 tbsp golden syrup
1/2 tsp wattleseed (optional)
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup coconut

125g dark chocolate
1/4 cup cream

Line a swiss roll tin with baking paper.  Break up the biscuits into small chunks (Lucy compares hers to gravel but I prefer a little more texture).  I did mine in the food processor but pulsed it to make sure it didn't break up the bikkies too finely - though I have also done this with biscuits in a bag or by using a heavy object to crush them before.  Set aside broken biscuits and blitz cake in food processor if it is not already in crumbs.

Melt chocolate, butter, condensed milk, cocoa, golden syrup and wattleseed together.  I did this in a large bowl in the microwave.  Mix in biscuits, cake crumbs, walnuts and coconut.  Spread into prepared tin and smooth with the back of a spoon.

To make the topping, melt chocolate and cream together until chocolate is half melted.  Remove from heat (or in my case from microwave) and stir until completely melted.  Spread over the biscuit mixture.  Let set in the fridge and cut into small squares with a sharp knife.

On the stereo:
Spiritual: Magma

Friday 29 April 2011

Guitar Birthday Cake

Ever since I have met E, he has always owned a few guitars.  They sit around the house on stands and in cases.  It seemed inevitable that one year he would have a guitar birthday cake.  This was the year for it.  As in past years, I post his birthday cake on the anniversary of my blog, which began with E's vampire birthday cake 4 years ago today.  This year my blogiversary falls on a day of celebration for Will and Kate's wedding.  I am happy to share the party food with the royal couple.

I even have a princess picture to share.  Drawn by my nieces in E's birthday card.  Grace and Ella came over for E's birthday lunch with my sister Susie, as did my parents, my brother Paul and a few neighbours.  It was a pleasant lunch of Vegetarian Sausage Rolls, hummus dip, vegie sticks, chips, cheese and bikkies, GF  tim tams, sponge cake (thanks mum), chocolate biscuits (thanks Paula).  My mum even brought up some GF pastry.  I used rice flakes instead of oats and corn crumbs instead of breadcrumbs to make the sausage rolls.  Most sausage rolls were made with a regular puff pastry but I made some with the GF pastry.

I kept the food simple because I needed to concentrate on the birthday cake.  Sylvia slept overnight with mum and dad so that I could decorate  without distractions.  It was 2 hours work even without "mum mum mum".  She was very frowny to arrive home and find it filled with people.  There were one or two tantrums including one where she tried to hurl the implements from the kitchen drawers.  Most unforgivable was trying to scrape her hands along the guitar cake.  It took too much work to let Sylvia tear it up.  She relaxed after a while and enjoyed herself.

One of the greatest challenges in decorating the cake was getting my head around the shape.  I usually draw a picture of the cake to get the shape right.  This cake had to be big to get in the details.  At first I looked at using three cake tins as above but finally decided two cake tins was easier.  I also had to source all the decorations.  Did you know you can buy hat elastic in a supermarket?  I do now. 

While I made the cake, I ran into the other room to look at E's guitars for accuracy.  But most of the ideas came from the trusty Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book.  It seemed appropriate however that as I decorated the cake, I was listening to Alan Brough on the radio talking about people's experience of record shops to celebrate Record Store Day. E also advised me on guitars.  He suggested I have 20 frets and that the neck of the guitar lacked the nut.  So I can report that the cake was nut-free!

There was a lot of birthday cake.  I made the white chocolate mud cake that I made for Sylvia's birthday cake.  It's a great recipe for novelty cakes.  We had lots of musk sticks leftover but to my surprise E has enjoyed having them for snacks.  I was pleased with the cake and also pleased with entertaining in our recently revamped kitchen.  A lovely time was had by all.

How to Make a Guitar Cake:

You will need
  • double amount of white chocolate mud cake
  • 1 batch of vienna cream (recipe below) plus cocoa
  • 5 or 6 musk sticks
  • black hat elastic (I think my packet was about 5m but I needed a lot less)
  • liquorice - both thin and thick
  • 6 lollypops of the same colour
  • a big big board to place it on
1. First draw an actual sized shape of the cake to work out how you will cut the cakes into a guitar.  I started off tracing 3 tins but discovered I could do it with 2 tins.  I used my swiss roll tin and my loaf tin.

2. Make the cake.  I baked a double batch of white chocolate mud cake which slices easily for shaping the cake.  Try and distribute the mixture evenly among the tins.  This is best done the day before you make the cake because it makes it even easier to slice.

3. Cover the tray.  This cake was so big it was hard to find a tray big enough.  I had to use my large baking tray and a flat chopping board.  I covered both of these with foil and placed them on a large wire cooling rack.  This meant that if I had to move the cake I could do so easily without pulling apart the two trays.

4. Cut the cake shape with a sharp knife, using your drawing as your guide.  I had to slice some off the bottom of my loaf tin so it was even with the height of the large swiss roll cake.  Then I cut it vertically about two thirds across.  I cut the remaining third in half horizontally and placed them together at the top of the neck of the guitar.  Use a pastry brush to brush away any crumbs.  Leftover cake can be placed in freezer and used to make cake pops or stay tuned for other ideas.

5. Prepare the trimmings - this is fiddly work.  It is easier to check they fit on an un-iced cake.  Cut two pieces of musk stick into long thin flat disks.  One will be the saddle and the other quite frankly is just an AWW invention now that I look at a guitar, doesn't exist near the bottom of the neck.  Cut thin pieces of liquorice to use as the frets - which should actually go down the sound hole.  Cut a thick piece of liquorice to be the bridge and cut a thin piece of liquorice to line the sound hole.  Cut three musk sticks into three (about 1 inch each) and tie a hat string around each, making sure that the strings are plenty long enough (much easier to trim them than to make them longer).  Actually I cut most pieces a bit big and trimmed them to be the right size when I put them on.

6. Make the vienna cream (aka buttercream frosting or icing).  Beat (with electric beaters) butter until white and fluffy.  Add 3/4 cup of icing sugar and 1 tbsp milk, repeat with 3/4 cup icing sugar and 1 tbsp milk.  Mix 1 tbsp cocoa into the vienna cream.

7. Ice the cake.  Use a sharp knife to mark the sound hole (I traced around a round ramekin) and the neck of the guitar that goes through the body and to the edge of the hole.  Spread buttercream over the top of the body of the guitar but do not go over the edge of the hole and neck.  Halve the icing.  Stir 4 tbsp of cocoa into one half of the icing.  Use the darker icing to ice the neck and hole, being careful to keep to the borders made by the lighter icing on the body.  It didn't seem like a huge amount but I had plenty of cream to ice around the sides when I finished the top.

8.Decorate the cake.  Trim each piece with scissors as you put them in place.  Place the thin disks of musk stick to be the saddle and the odd bit above the sound hole.  Place thin long piece of liquorice around the sound hole leaving a small margin of light coloured buttercream frosting.  Place frets at regular intervals along the neck. 

Now is what was the hardest part for me.  Put each musk "peg" at the top of the neck, the inside strings highest.  Pull the elastic as taut as possible, cut to fit and once all six are done, place a little extra icing and the thick piece of liquorice over ends of elastic at the bridge.  My strings weren't very taut and if I pulled them too hard the pegs would come out.  (I did wonder about using florist wire instead but I think it would be hard to tie around musk sticks).  Then stick lollypops in at top of neck to be the tuning keys.  That's it.  You probably need to sit down and rest now!

On the Stereo:
Honeysuckle Aeons: Current 93

Wednesday 27 April 2011

Chow Mein - revisited on ANZAC Day

This year Easter and ANZAC Day were bundled in together.  ANZAC Day was on Easter Monday so the holiday was on Tuesday.  We stayed at my parents so I went with some of my family to the ANZAC Day dawn service at Torquay. We rose at 4am and drove through the deserted streets to the Torquay football ground to take a bus to Point Danger where the flags flew in the moonlight.  It was dark, cold and I should have been sleeping. 

Instead I was remembering those who served in wars throughout Australia's history.  Above is a picture of the Shrine of Remembrance, built in 1934 in Melbourne.  I didn't go there on ANZAC Day but couldn't resist a pic when I passed it on the way to meet my friend Alison at the Botanic Gardens yesterday.  I have attended a dawn service there many years ago and it was stirring stuff. 
It is an amazing phenomenon, the huge growth in popularity of these services and it is pleasing that so many of the younger generations are joining in.  Yet at this year's service I felt older, tireder and more cynical.  I wish there was more learning and less glorification.  Having said this, it was an uplifting way to start the day, to watch the sky lighten as we sang hymns and listened to reflections.  After the service we watched the sunrise over the sea and looked at the memorial wreaths.
We returned to my mum and dad's to join the sleepers for a breakfast of bacon, eggs, pancakes and hash browns.  Then E, Sylvia and I went to the Geelong Botanic Gardens to visit the kids play space and wander through the gardens.  E wanted to see flowers.  Sylvia wanted a swing.  I wanted an outing.  We were all happy, though unfortunately the mozzies wanted our blood.

On the way home I was so tired I fell asleep in the car.  (Don't worry - E was driving!)  When I woke E asked what was for dinner.  I considered it in that twilight state between sleep and waking.  While at my folks' place I had been browsing old cookbooks.  I had come across a recipe for Chow Mein that was similar to the one that my mum made for me as a child.

If you are interested to know the name of the cookbook, it is called Recipes and there is no author or date, though the pictures date it to the 1970s and there is a thanks to the Christian Family Movement.  (No modern cookbook would have a sweet slice called Tobacco!)

This reminded me of the version I used to make when living in student households.  Here are my scrappy notes, which I knew I would need one day to remind me what I did!  Ah, this is what we did before blogs were invented!  I wanted to use up the rest of my buckwheat nut roast and the main vegetables I had were cabbage and green beans.  Not the most inspiring vegies for a side dish but they were exactly what I needed for chow mein.

I set about finding any other vegetables in the house.  It all added up to an excellent chow mein.  Now I must make my disclaimer here.  This dish is not about serving authentic Chinese food.  It is about capturing memories of the food I grew up eating.  I thought it a good post to have for ANZAC Day because it evokes old Australian recipes that are nothing like the real thing but became part of who we were.

What I loved about the chow mein that my mum made was the saltiness of the chicken noodle soup mix and the starchiness of the rice and noodles.  So I made it in the manner of a risotto, letting a cup or two of stock being absorbed at a time, though I am sure you could put all the liquid in at once.  Actually I think I just wasn't sure how much liquid I needed.  I had finally made more freezer stock last week, so I had plenty of the home made stuff to use.  My tamari ran out or I might have used a bit more.  In the past I have used stock powder, which is more like soup mix, though these days I prefer to avoid MSG.

The chow mein was fantastic.  In the past I have made it with tempeh but the nut roast really did feel more like the mince meat my mum put in it.  The dish was soft and melting.  Not a dish for al dente vegetables, though I did keep my beans a nice green colour.  But it could be worse.  E tells me his dad just added hot water to make his Vesta chow mein in the 1970s.  I like to think mine was more the sort of thing to be eaten by the characters of Paper Giants: the birth of Cleo, an Australian tv show set in the 1970s.  It was just what we needed after lots of chocolate and desserts of Easter.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe
This time last year: PPN Mee Goreng
This time three years ago: Toothpicks, Tacos, and Oaxaca

Chow Mein
inspired by my mum
serves 4-6

2 tsp canola oil
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp tamari*
1 leek, washed and thinly sliced
1/4 drum cabbage, thinly sliced
1-2 carrots, diced
1/4 green capsicum, diced
1 red capsicum, diced
3 largish button mushrooms, diced
1/2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
3 clove garlic, crushed
about 4 1/2 cups of stock*
1/2 cup uncooked rice
80g uncooked spaghetti - broken into bits
375g green beans, trimmed, cut small
1/2 a quantity of buckwheat nut roast*

* The seasoning in the tamari, stock and nut roast can also be adjusted depending on what is available.  In the past I have used tempeh, stock powder, water and soy sauce.  If I were to use tempeh instead of nut roast I would add it earlier so it soaked up more flavour.

Heat oils and tamari in an extra large frypan or a stockpot.  (I don't usually heat tamari with the oil but I mistook it for sesame oil and it worked ok.)  Fry leek, cabbage, carrots, capsicums, mushrooms, ginger and garlic for about 10 minutes until they start to soften (I throw them in the pan as I chop them.)

Add rice, spaghetti and a cup or two of stock.  Bring to the boil and briskly simmer until water is mostly absorbed and add another cup or two.  Keep cooking for about 30-40 minutes until most stock is absorbed and the rice and spaghetti is cooked.

While the stew is simmering, cook the green beans for about 3 minutes in boiling water until just soft.  Drain and set aside.  Crumble the nut roast and heat in the microwave.

When the rice and spaghetti is cooked, stir in the green beans and nut roast.  Serve hot.

On the Stereo:
Set List: The Frames

Tuesday 26 April 2011

Buckwheat Nut Roast and Easter Reflections

As is our family tradition, we had Easter Sunday lunch at my mum and dad's place.  I took down a suitably celebratory buckwheat and sweet potato nut roast and a batch of marzipan choc chip cookies that I had made the previous day.  The house was groaning with all the food my family brought to the table.  When it comes to eating, we are wealthy, if not always healthy!

The nut roast was one that I have created for my Neb at Nut Roast event.   Ever since using buckwheat in a salad recently, I have been smitten with the groat.  It is so soft and nubbly.  My dad said it reminded him of sago (well actually he said it reminded him of the stuff like fish eggs and I thought he meant caviar but we worked out he meant sago).

I decided to make a GF nut roast because I also had some rice flakes that I wanted to use.  I have made a few gluten free nut roasts before.  As I cooked I thought of how nuts bring a creamy rather than nutty texture to most of my nut roasts.  Buckwheat groats bring a wonderful comforting softness that complements the nuts.  It doesn't harden up like rice or dissolve into mush like millet.

I must also give a nod in the direction of Ricki's Sweet Potato and Kasha Burgers (kasha generally referring to buckwheat groats).  While I still haven't managed to make them, they came to mind when I saw a few stray sweet potatoes in the fridge.  The sweet potato added moisture more than discernible flavour. 

The nut roast was a great success.  It can be cut in slices if you treat it gently but it will crumble rather more easily, as I found when I used up the leftovers (recipe coming soon).  I had it with roast potatoes and pumpkin, cauliflower cheese and peas, plus a spoonful of beetroot and orange chutney.  Fantastic!  E said it was one of his favourites of my nut roasts.  He loved the texture and flavours.  I found it quite strongly seasoned, but could not quite put my finger on why.

Dessert was a tyranny of choice.  GF Chocolate Cake with Raspberries (from this month's Australian Women's Weekly), trifle, pavolva, caramel tart, and caramel ANZAC tarts.  Possibly my favourites were the chocolate cake which I highly recommend and the tarts inspired by Matt Preston.  The latter were a timely nod in the direction of ANZAC Day which is so close to Easter this year.  My mum made her own ANZAC biscuits as the tart cases, made caramel out of a tin of condensed milk for the filling and topped them with some ganache.  Oh, so so so good!  Sylvia made a decent attempt at the piece of pav as well as sampling a couple of other things on the my plate.

I can't mention Easter without referring to hot cross buns.  My mum bakes them every year.  Above is a plate of her HCBs.  They were lovely, though we were so full from dessert that they didn't get a look in until supper.  I still have quite a few in my freezer too and am looking forward to making my way through them.

Easter also means eggs.  Not the kind that we get from these beady-eyed birds.  Chocolate.  You know.  The sort of chocolate that the factory has swept up off its floor and remelted into egg shapes.  Not my favourite way to eat the stuff though I have had a few.  Just to be sociable, of course.  Many eggs changed hands but are really for the kids these days.  We gave Sylvia some little eggs and it took three hours before I found her with half an egg in her mouth, complete with the wrapper.

The weather was just right.  Gentle autumnal sunshine.  Perfect for kids to play outside: kicking a footy about, spending hours on the swing, riding a tricycle or playing a spot of cricket.  Perfect unless you are Grace who was unlucky enough to get hit in the head with a cricket bat.  She was happier about the Easter egg hunt.  My brother Dave cunningly hid the eggs in the garden and the kids had lots of fun finding them.

Above you can see that my mum and dad's lemon tree is heavy with ripe fruit.  So it seems that this time of year is full as a state school.  Everything is happening within a week or two this year: Easter, E's birthday, ANZAC Day, a Royal Wedding and my blog anniversary.  Lots to tell you.  More soon.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe
This time last year: NCR Very Garlicky Vegetable Soup
This time three years ago: Historic Cookbooks and Retro Gratin

Buckwheat and sweet potato nut roast
original recipe
serves 4-6

175ml buckwheat groats
385g sweet potato
1 tbsp olive oil (or less)
1 onion
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 baby carrot (or more)
1 cup finely chopped mushrooms (about 4)
1/2 cup ground hazelnuts
1/4 cup ground almonds
1 tbsp tamari
1 1/2 tsp bush spice marinade (or 1 tsp stock powder)
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 cup rice flakes (or oats if not GF)
1 egg (optional)
 cook for about 45 min on 180 until browned and firm to touch

Cook the buckwheat according to packet directions (I rinsed mine and simmered covered for 20 minutes in 350ml boiling water).

Prick the skins of the sweet potato and bake in a hot oven for about 1 hour or until soft.  You don't need to cool but it makes easier to take the skins off.  Peel and mash.

Perheat oven to 180 C.  Grease and line a loaf tin (mine is 13 x 22 cm) unless you are using a silicone loaf pan and even then a little baking paper in the bottom of the tin can help.  NB Silicone pans are good for transporting because you can keep it in the pan overnight or on a journey, and they also are good for reheating in the microwave.

Heat olive oil in a heavy based large frypan and fry the onion, garlic, carrots and mushrooms for about 15 minutes on a medium heat.  They should be fairly dry by the time they are done.

Mix cooked buckwheat, mashed sweet potato, fried vegies and remaining ingredients in a large bowl.  Tip into prepared tin.  Bake for about 45 minutes or until top is golden brown and the loaf is firm to touch.  Serve warm.  You can slice this but it is quite fragile and needs to be handled with care because it crumbles easily.

On the Stereo:
Am Himmel mit Feuer: Art Absconds

Monday 25 April 2011

Why Does Food History Matter?

Dining room at Churchill Island, Victoria
‘Every vegetable has a history. … All have a tale to tell; all have incidents in their lives which reflect on humankind, on what we thought and felt, exposing our vanity and aspirations, our most intimate personal habits and beliefs, as revealing as any archaeological remains.’ Colin Spencer in The Vegetable Book

When most people tell us about a particular vegetable, they often talk about the nutrients, when it is in season, how to store and what to serve with it. But I want a broader picture. Since starting my food blog I have grown to love the stories about food. Which leaders have loved it, what poets have sung its praises, which cultural references has it influenced! As Colin Spencer articulates so beautifully, when we learn about food history, we learn about ourselves.

[Note: This is a long post with lots of resources for anyone (including myself) interested in food history.  I have been writing it off and on since 2008.  Over this time I have collected some photos of historic kitchens and quotes to add a bit of visual interest.  History seems a good topic for today's post, given it is ANZAC Day.]

'At that moment of tasting the mushroom, he had remembered home, and his mother, how their food was cooked and God knows what else about the place and then time in which he grew up.  Even in telling it, he was remembering both the eating of the mushroom and the memories they evoked.' Denis Cotter in Wild Garlic Gooseberries and Me (p 113)

Food is so much more than a fuel. It is comfort and company. It connects us to family, friends and culture. Food is a collective memory that bring our ancestors to life in a tangible way. It helps us remember a recent encounter, a childhood friend, a past civilisation. You only have to open a cookbook to see that history is integrally bound up with what we eat. Many food writers reflect on learning to cook with their mothers or grandmothers. Many recipes are named after people who gave it to us. We have a great need to know where we come from. Food helps to fulfill this need.

Treasury Museum, Melbourne
So much happens over food. The couple who lived in the above kitchen would tap morse code on their dinner plates when they wanted to say something they didn't want to hear. But mostly families have shared stories around the dinner table. Stories that become inextricably bound up with our food.  When I did oral history interviews for my thesis, I often found that a discussion of dinner gave an insight into people's lives. It tells us what life is like. For example this excerpt from my Great Uncle Des' letter during World War II give a sense of his day:

'Too bad the beer shortage hit over Christmas. Creamy soda made here is the best I could do but wasn't greatly worried as beer is only about sixth on my list of preferences these days. Some of the boys get stuck into their own brews of jungle juice - it's pretty potent stuff but so far I haven't tasted anything stronger than creek water, as bully beef can stir the old tummy up.'

Lord Kenneth Clark in Civilisation said that great artists are borrowers. So too are great cooks. They dig into the past and recreate it in ways that our peers recognise. A great example is Heston Blumenthal whose exciting creations rely on our memories of food. Michael Pollan says not to eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognise but the best modern food has elements that she had passed down to us. Of course, my grandmother would not recognise all the "foreign" cuisines I now eat but someone else's grandmother might. I guess that counts!

Ripponlea, Melbourne
Food history and blogging
'Every time I knead a loaf of bread I am aware that generations of women before me have done the same thing, thinking similar thoughts, dreaming similar dreams, praying similar prayers.' Quoted at Baking Delights blog via The Leftover Queen

I love when past and present meet on food blogs. Here's a few excellent examples: Lucy shared her grandmother's cookbook, Lysy had a series of posts on Passover and all the symbolism beind the food during this period, Ricki often reminisces about the people and experiences behind that dishes she makes, and Kim wrote a wonderful evocative post about her family plot of rhubarb that brings her closer to her family.  Brydie wrote a lovely post comparing the food of three generations in Australia.

Cooking traditional recipes is imbued with memories of family. They guide and nurture us through recipes passed from generation to generation.  So it is that food bloggers remember important people in their lives by their recipes and their favourite food.  Here are a few blogs dedicated to the history of food:
Monsalvat, Melbourne
My food history

'Biscuits are one of the first things we learn to cook when we are little - or at least roll and stamp out, get the feel of, which is just as important - and there seems to be a sense in which we're recapturing some remembered, no doubt idealised, past whenever we make them in adulthood.'
Nigella Lawson in The Domestic Goddess

I recently sat at a family event eating caramel tart with my sister Fran. "I just can't eat it without thinking of Nan," she said to me. Yes a simple wedge of pastry and sugary filling can release a flood of memories of childhood meals around my grandmother's beige laminex kitchen table.

Nan would be wearing an apron and checking the scones in the wall oven. My little brothers and sisters would be whispering and shoving each other. Grandpa would be finding some old tram tickets or trinkets from a cereal packet that he had saved for us. Dad would be discussing family and friends with his parents. Mum would be helping. Probably cutting iced sponge cakes into thick wedges with cream oozing out of the centre. The table would be spread with all manner of sweet treats: lamingtons, caramel tart, sponge cake with passionfruit icing, pineapple delight etc etc. After lunch I would sit in Nan's sewing room sitting on the well stuffed divan with my legs not touching the floor. I admired her cheval mirror as I flicked through her magazines and dreamt of creating the recipes.

It is not only my Nan who is linked to food in my memory. My mum always made a batch of mince pies to take to her father. I can't eat a liquorice allsort or a macaroon without thinking of my Grandpa. In fact one of my favourite stories is his horror at my Nan's "deviousness" when he discovered she had substituted margarine for butter after his heart attack. One of my early memories of my maternal grandmother in my mum's childhood house is of her sitting stirring a bowl of chocolate pudding by hand.

Motts cottage, Port Fairy
Food has been a way to nurture and love. Mum remembers her maternal grandmother, who always had a kitchen table full of baking when they visited. She baked apple slice, scones and sponges and never sat down because she was too busy bringing food to her family. They didn’t sit in the kitchen where she baked but in another room. My mum regularly makes apple slices, scones and sponges. It is a nice connection.

Of all of these I love scones most. I not only make scones a lot but it is one of the last things I remember my maternal grandmother baking for me - with home made strawberry jam. E too remembers the women in his family making many wonderful baked goods, especially treacle scones. A scone can mean many things! 

My childhood was full of cooking. Baking with my mum. Licking the beaters.  Pushing two fingers into risen bread dough to see if it sprung back.  Sitting around the family table sharing meals, trying to sneakily watch the telly at the same time, talking about our day. School lunches. Learning to cook in the home economics kitchens at school.

Finding out that not everyone ate like us. I remember my surprise at being offered a biscuit for "afters" or "sweets" because I was used to hot cooked desserts at home. Some kids were even allowed to have as much milo as they liked in their milk! Others got biscuits with funny faces made of lollies.

I've written a lot in my blog about food of my childhood and food history, so you can read more in these posts:
Kitchen at Churchill Island, Victoria
More food history on the web

'I have a lot of old cookbooks myself... But the really old ones (dating back to medieval times) are in online databases. Over the last few years there has been an explosion in the number of historic cookbooks that have been made freely available over the Internet, thanks to such organisations as Google Books, Gutenberg and the Internet Archive, as well as a lot of libraries around the world.'
From 2010 interview with Janet Clarkson aka blogger behind The old foodie

It will be clear from the above lists that I have taken quite an interest in food history since starting this blog.  Most, but not all, of my research is done online.  I have been fascinated to find just what a wealth of information is available on the humble internet.  Did you know that the IVU have a list of historic online vegetarian cookbook - mostly from the Nineteenth Century - that you can download in their entirety?  Were you aware that you can find where many foods came into use on the Food Timeline? Would you like to be a virtual tourist and visit an even online food museums such as the Carrot Museum?

It is amazing what you find when you put a topic into a search engine.  It can also be frustrating.  So to help you out - and remind me - here is a select list of some of the sites I have found useful when searching for information about food history.  Of course, these are only the tip of the iceberg.
Stamps from Australia featuring Australia's iconic recipes.
Food history offline

"It is curious how seldom the all-importance of food is recognized. You see statues everywhere to politicians, poets, bishops, but none to cooks or bacon-curers or market gardeners."  George Orwell in The Road to Wigham Pier

If you walk into my favourite food book shop Books for Cooks in Gertrude Street, Fitzroy and look for books on food history, you will be overwhelmed by shelves of them. It is a topic of endless fascination.  Nostalgia is never goes out of fashion.  However you will find that it is not limited to books focused on the topic.  All manner of histories and memoirs (including George Orwell's) have choice bits that give an insight into food in our lives.  Cookbooks too are often a great source of history.

Food history is found in more places than books.  Museums usually have information about food.  I particularly love all the old food posters.  The built environment will yield information about food history.  The faded old painted advertisements on the sides of buildings are few and far between now but they always seem quite dignified to me compared to their flashy billboard counterparts of today.  Some of our food institutions preserve some of the traditions of the past: the Queen Victoria Market, the Hopetoun Tea Rooms in the Block Arcade in the city, and The Windsor Hotel's high tea, to mention just a few.  Films such as Julie and Julia or Babette's Feast also explore changing attitudes to food.

Much food history is unseen.  One of my favourite assignments as a student was a history of market gardens.  There was very little architecture left but it gave me a fascinating insight into just how some of our Melbourne suburbs were used, not so long ago.  Even our houses carry their own histories.  If only the walls could talk, imagine the food that might have been cooked in our kitchens before us.  One of my favourite food history stories is of members of the Ephemera Society who saved a bread roll from Pope Paul VI's visit to Melbourne in 1970 and nailed it to the wall.

Old advertisement for Bushells tea - Park Street, North Carton
It seems a bold move to attempt to give a select list of all the books focusing on food history but below are a few that I have found useful and enjoyable.  I own most of these books and still plan to get my hands on a few.  If you wanted to read about food history, you could do worse than starting with this list.

One quirky way of reminding ourselves of how much our approach to food has changed over the past few generations is the humble retronym. A retronym relates to terminology that has been created to differentiate new concepts from old ones. Foodie examples of this include: free range eggs, fruit in season, real ale, unsliced loaf, unpasteurised milk organic fruit and vegetables, vine ripened tomatoes, cold water tap, conventional oven, full cream milk, whole meal (whole wheat) flour, corn on the cob, plain flour, all purpose flour, tap water.

A vintage sign in Brunswick, Melbourne. 
I don't think Peters ice cream would get away today with claiming ice cream was the health food of a nation. I guess things were different way back when!
Why does food history matter?

History must be protected.  Why?  People need connections.  They need to know where they came from.  I partly say this to myself as a food blogger.  Blogging has sent me off in search of the new.  I delight in innovation.  Recipes that I used to make over and over are no longer so frequently seen in our kitchen.  I don't want to lose sight of the old because I am dazzled by the new.  However, the blog has also given me space to reflect on why some of my traditional recipes are important to me.  So I thought I would write a list:
  • History is a great teacher.  Look at how our foremothers made it.  They often have insights and tips to pass down to us.  Many recipes have generations of learning in them.  We don't always need to be reinventing the wheel.
  • History recognises diversity.  Barbara Kingsolver in Animal Vegetable Miracle really made me think about how dreadful it would be to lose the diversity of vegetables and fruit.  What a dull world it would be that didn''t recognise different tastes as well as different geography.
  • History can made sense of our lives.  I have read about vegetables changing over the years.  such as , eggplants becoming less bitter so they don't need salting.  I was also fascinated to read that Americans use cup measures because scales were not reliable in the past.  History explains why condensed milk was necessary and not just a sweet treat.
  • History recognises geographical differences.  In the world of the interwebs, it seems that we are one big happy family.  Yet coming from Australia, I am aware of how many differences there are in our cuisines to our British and American cousins.  It is important to keep our culture strong in cooking to remember where we come from.
  • History appreciates aesthetics.  Our foremothers appreciated the need for food to be pretty, to tempt, to celebrate.  They created traditions that are still a sight to behold today.  A flaming Christmas pudding.  Ruby coloured jams.  Wobbly plates of jelly.  Even the names of dishes hold an old world charm.  Toad in the Hole.  Spotted Dick.  Knickerbocker Glory.
  • History nourishes the soul.  Food is about more than nutrients.  It is nursery suppers and nostalgia. It is comforting because it reminds you of your mum's hot cup of soup on a cold night, or flat lemonade when you were sick, or warm tea cake on a lazy afternoon.  Food from our past reminds us of love and care.
    • History is fun.  It is fetes and festivals.  It is barbecues and banquets.  It is quaint and quirky.  It is remembering our childhood dishes that made us smile, the treats our grandparents bestowed upon us, the lolly bags we took home from kids parties. Our foremothers made food to please and tempt and wheedle.
    • History knows how to cope.  It surprised me to find that there is a long history of vegetarian food.  We are not the first to find ways to eat without meat, or in times of poverty, or when items of food is scarce.  Our ancestors knew a lot about eating locally and frugally.  We can learn a lot from them.
    • History puts life in perspective.  It reminds us that others have also failed or succeeded in recipes.  We are not the first to have a sponge sink on us and continue to bake them until they are fluffy as a cloud.  Reading about the shortages during war, makes me feel grateful for the abundance of food we can buy locally.  Even being able to buy a carton of milk seems like a luxury compared to having to milk the cow.
    'I cooked with my mother, I leafed through her cookery book collection and appreciated great prose, I helped in the garden, I listened to her explanations of a dish or a meal, I gloried in her special dinners complete with fancy touches from the garden or carefully-chosen plates, and I came to understand that an interest in the food of the world meant an interest in the culture of the world.'
    Stephanie Alexander writing about her mother (online)

    Saturday 23 April 2011

    Marzipan choc chip cookies

    I've been thinking about marzipan a lot ever since Choclette announced it the theme for April in the We Should Cocoa event that she holds with Chele each month.  At first I thought it was my opportunity to make the Green and Black's Chocolate Stollen that has been on my to-do list for years.  Then I was honest with myself about what I could do and decided to make cookies instead.

    I have also long desired to make my own marzipan.  That opportunity wasn't going to go by the wayside.  I had seen Suelle's Marzipan stuffed Chocolate Biscuits a while ago.  Then I stumbled across a vegan version in the recipe for Marzipan Filled Pillows from The complete guide to vegan substitutions (p 90) by Celine Steen and Joni Marie Newman.  I love their work but I didn't have potato starch to make the marzipan and the 240g chocolate for 8 cookies seemed a tad excessive.

    I did remember Lucy's homemade marzipan that she made a few years back.  It had impressed me because it used so little sweetener and no eggs.  I didn't have the almond essence and I found I needed to use more rice malt syrup than her.  Nevertheless, when Sylvia tasted it, she was quite positive about it.

    I was intent on making marzipan stuffed biscuits until I found a recipe for biscuits with choc chunks and marzipan chunks.  Then I realised that while fancy biscuits are fun, choc chip cookies are what we love in our house.  They are both easy and delicious.  I got out my favourite choc chip cookie cookbook and chose a recipe to adapt.  I substituted marzipan for walnuts and coconut.

    How did they taste?  Let me put it this way.  These are the sort of cookies that are best when out of sight, out of mind, because, if you remember just how good they taste, you want another.  I can't claim that they taste very strongly of marzipan.  I don't have any almond essence, which may have made a difference.  The cookies are so buttery and full of chocolate that they can't fail to please.  Yet I think the marzipan adds great texture to the soft chewy centres. I would like to try them with almond essence but am afraid I would ruin this perfect combination.

    Sylvia and I had a lovely time making these.  She did a great job of pouring and stirring but her biscuit-forming skills need some honing.  The cookies were delicious warm from the oven.  Sylvia wanted a taste but I didn't want to spoil her dinner - not that she ate any.  We are taking some of them down to Geelong tomorrow.  They seem a good offering for Easter Sunday.  Maybe Sylvia will get her taste there.

    Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe
    This time last year: Grumpy's Green - well fed with eco cred
    This time three years ago: ANZAC Day and the Biscuit Police

    Marzipan choc chip cookies
    adapted from The search for the perfect choc chip cookie (p 40)
    makes 3-4 dozen (I made 38)
    • 1 cup plus 2 tbsp plain white flour
    • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
    • pinch salt
    • 1/2 cup castor sugar
    • 1/4 cup brown sugar (not packed)
    • 1 egg
    • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
    • 120g butter, melted
    • 1 cup dark chocolate chips (or less)
    adapted from Nourish Me
    • 1 cup (100g) ground almonds
    • 3 tbsp rice malt syrup
    • 1/4 tsp almond extract (optional)
    First make the marzipan:  Mix ground almonds, rice malt syrup and almond extract (if using) in a small bowl.  Press together in a ball and knead briefly (I just squished it a bit in my hands).  Make into a long log, wrap in cling film and place in the freezer while you start on the cookies (I think mine was there about 30 minutes).

    To make cookies: preheat oven to 200 C and line a large tray (or two medium ones) with baking paper or silicone mats.  Mix flour, bicarb soda, salt, and sugars in a medium to large bowl.

    Take the marzipan out of the freezer and using a floured board, chop into small chunks.  I found mine was very sticky so I cut it into thin strips and sprinkled a bit of flour on these so they didn't clump together when I chopped them.  Add egg and melted butter to the flour mixture.  Then stir in the choc chips and marzipan chunks.

    Take teaspoonfuls of the mixture and form into small disks on the prepared tray.  If you have lots of stray choc chips like I did, just press them into the disks.  NB I found mine didn't spread too much.  Bake for 8-10 minutes until just starting to brown around the edges.  Better a little underdone than overdone.  Rest on tray for about 10 minutes and then remove to a wire rack to cool.

    On the Stereo:
    Brood: My friend the chocolate cake