Saturday 30 July 2011

Apple Spice Cake

There are times when I feel I am turning into my mother.  Take apples for example.  I have always loved them fresh but have been a bit wary of cooking them.  Growing up, my mother was constantly baking with them.  Dutch apple cake.  Apple slice.  Apple sponge.  Baked apples.  Apple crumble.  I wanted stone fruit.  I didn't understand the seasons (or budgets).  As an adult I have learned the joy of apples in autumn.

Back in April, I had an urge to bake apple cakes.  I started with a dense Apple Fruit Cake, moved onto a lighter Apple Spice Cake (recipe below) and then found that Lumberjack Cake is very similar to a favourite Apple and Date Cake.  All very good.  All had such different textures.

I made the Apple Spice Cake after coming home from a busy day that had been hijacked by a computer virus.  There was no time to drop into the supermarket.  I was visiting a friend for lunch the next day and wanted to take something for lunch.  Everything I needed was in my kitchen.  The only ingredient I left out was walnuts, which Sylvia and I had used up in a batch of fruit balls.  I made it in a small slice tin but next time might make it in my new 20cm square cake tin.

It didn't look as impressive as the Apple Fruit Cake but I loved the simplicity.  It was spicy, soft and filled with apple.  Sylvia was quite keen on it and thought the best was to help herself was to dig her fingers into the cake.  Not the best way to present a cake.  A thick dusting of icing sugar hides a multitude of sins but the cake still looked a little bumpy when we took it to Ballarat where Nicki was visiting her family.

This lunch was just before Easter.  I had avoided taking chocolate because I thought that the kids would probably have enough of the stuff.  Nicki's son asked if there was any chocolate in the cake or the fruit balls.  When I said no, he lost interest.  Sylvia and Nicki's older daughter enjoyed the cake.

However when we arrived I found that Nicki had also made an apple cake.  Hers was a butter cake with precooked apples in the middle and on top.  By the time they were baked again they melted in the mouth.  I must get this recipe as it was simply amazing.  We had a lovely time there.  Sylvia was a little shy of the older kids.  As often happens, by the time we were ready to go, she didn't want to leave her new friends.  And I was pleased to bring home some slices of both apple cakes because there was plenty to go round.

Lastly I must quickly mention the Lumberjack Cake I made.  It was made from this recipe, which is the same as my Apple and Date Cake but has coconut in the topping.  However I noticed that Lorraine used condensed milk in her topping and I happened to have some in the fridge so I just combined some condensed milk and shredded coconut for the topping.  It was fantastic.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: Turkish Fig Pudding
This time two years ago: Bizarre gnocchi and strange crumble
This time three years ago: Tabouli from the Tree
This time four years ago: Lasagne and the Boy Wizard

Apple Spice Cake
Slightly adapted from Lovely Wee Days
  • 2 cooking apples
  • 1 c sugar (I used a bit less)
  • 113g (4 oz) butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups flour (I used 1 cup white and 1/2 cup wholemeal)
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp allspice 
  • 1/2 tsp salt (I used a pinch of salt)
  • 1/2 cup sticky raisins (I used sultanas)
  • 1/2 c walnuts (I didn't use)

In a small bowl cover the raisins or sultanas with boiling water.  Peel, core and dice apples and sprinkle with sugar in another bowl - the apple will release some of its juices after standing for 5-10 minutes. Set aside while preparing other ingredients.

Mix butter and egg in a large mixing bowl.  Add apples and then dry ingredients.  Gently mix in drained raisins (or sultanas) and walnuts (if using).  Pour into a greased and lined tin (I used a small slice tin but next time would use a 20cm round cake tin or a 20cm square cake tin).

Bake at 180 C for 50-60 minutes (I think this is for a 20cm round cake tin), or 35-40 minutes for a 20cm square cake tin, or 20-30 minutes for a small slice tin.  Leave to cool before removing from the tin.  Dust with icing sugar to serve.

On the stereo:
Listen, Listen: an Introduction to: Sandy Denny

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Little Deer Tracks - Coburg chic

It was with great excitement that I heard that there was a hip new vegetarian cafe - Little Deer Tracks - in our neighbourhood.  Oh joyful day!  As soon as possible I headed down with Sylvia and my friend Heather.  The place was busy.  Locals were dropping in for a takeaway coffee and there were kids everywhere.  Yet we were able to find a seat near the window.  This is important for trainspotters because the cafe is near the train tracks.

I found a tin of crayons for Sylvia, who proceeded to spread out books and dolly over the table.  She wanted chippies.  I ordered her toast with honey and hash browns.  I didn't taste the toast but the home made hash browns were amazing.  They are crisp, golden and look like large round chips.  I suspect Sylvia would have enjoyed them more if she hadn't been distracted by her toast.  My advice is that if the waiter recommends the hash browns, just say yes.

Heather chose the eggs florentine.  She enjoyed it but commented that it had a lot of spinach in it.  When I was discussing this with Will the following day, he mentioned that he had seen quite a few eggs florentine dishes lately with ham in them.  I had almost asked if the baked beans had meat in them before I remembered that the whole menu was vegetarian.

I have seen some comments about the cafe not beating its chest about being vegetarian.  I understand that some people have very narrow views of vegetarianism but for those of us who chose avoid flesh, it is great to have a safe place where meat doesn't sneak into those meals we usually can rely upon.  It is a sign that attitudes towards vegetarianism are changing when a new vego cafe heralds the gentrification of a suburb rather than hippificiation.

Which brings me to my order of the bean pie, undercooked green beans (this description made us laugh), mashed potato and tomato relish.  Fortunately we arrived late enough (11am) to have the choice of either breakfast or lunch menu.  I chose this because a good vegetarian pie doesn't often come my way.  I am very glad to have encountered this one.

It was one of the best pies I have had for ages, possibly ever.  The pastry looked sturdy but was light and buttery.  The innards was a hearty bean with some light spices (I think I detected cumin) in a dark gravy.  The green beans were just cooked with a slightly lemon tang.  The mash was rich and creamy.  Of all the components of the meal, the relish didn't quite strike the right note.  It was a bit cold - maybe as a result of coming straight from the fridge rather than being room temperature.  However this is only a mere quibble with what was an excellent meal.  (I noticed that Michael had the same meal but with broccoli so this must change according to season.)  It was exactly what I want on a cold winter day.

After we had finished eating, I was stuffed to the gills.  I would have loved a chance to have dessert but that will have to wait for another time.  Yet I can't resist a cake display.  Sylvia was getting restless so we walked over to gaze longingly at the rich chocolate cake, lamingtons, cherry pie and carrot cake.  She had a play with a display of pigs at the top of the counter.  The staff behind the counter were friendly and happy for her to pick up the little figurines.  We paid up and walked home, stopping to enjoy the daisy bushes on the way home.

Update August 2016: Have been to Little Deer Tracks a few times since this review.  Had a fantastic lunch there this week of spiced cauliflower, roasted shallots and grilled haloumi; raw shredded cabbage and green beans; rice with cashews and sultanas; all sprinkled with pomegranate seeds!  Such a lovely way to eat lots of fresh vegies!  Photo above.

Little Deer Tracks
44 O'Hea St, Coburg
03 9354 3449

Saturday 23 July 2011

Pumpkin cake for Dolly's tea party

Last week Sylvia wanted a tea party.  Not for her, you understand.  For Dolly.  Every time we went shopping she would pick up something for Dolly's tea party.  She went down for her afternoon nap asking me to make so cakes for Dolly when she woke up. I made her cakes for the tea party.  Now she is telling me we need to make more cakes.

A tea party needs a place to pour tea and eat cake.  We bought a table and chairs from Ikea.  I managed to go in and only buy exactly what I wanted.  Quite an achievement.  Though I think I was too busy pulling Sylvia away from the little chairs and off the beds (in her gumboots) to focus on the other merchandise.  E put these together over a few nights after work.  He had a willing helper in Sylvia.   He couldn't do too much work while she was eating because she was far more interested in Dolly's chairs than dinner.

Next I made a cake.  Not quite what Sylvia was after.  It was a pumpkin tea cake from a recipe that I have been making for over many years.  I can't remember where I found it but I think I found it around the time I moved out of home.  I had some mashed pumpkin that that I forgot to serve with dinner.  The recipe called to me.

My loaf tin is slightly smaller than the tin in the recipe so I thought it would be an ideal opportunity to make a few extra little cakes with some surplus batter.  It was an easy cake to mix up while watching the telly in the evening.  Sylvia was very pleased to hear that I had made some cakes for Dolly.  We went to the city for some errands and on the train coming home, I promised her that we would decorate her cakes when we got home.

Plans were made for pink and white icing.  Dolly likes pink icing.  Sylvia likes white icing.  We also had a packet of icing flowers that Sylvia was given for her birthday.  I don't have great skills in creating elegant cakes so I was glad of the easy option of using the flowers.  We made an easy cream cheese frosting and used beetroot powder to make it pink.

Sylvia loved her cakes.  They were her constant object of desire.  "Could I have a cake for dolly?"  She sometimes ate the icing and sometimes ate all the cake.  I found the cake very sweet.  Decorating the cakes was fun.  However when it came to eating the cake, I preferred to spread slices with butter rather than further sweetening it with icing.  Sylvia ate the sugary flowers first.

I was pleased to find that the cake tasted as good as I remembered.  It is quite light and moist.  Even though it is sweet, it is so full of pumpkin flavour and spices that it is not overwhelming.  Ours lasted 5 days and was delightfully moist to the last slice.

I am off on holidays for the next week or so.  I have a few posts scheduled because I have so much in my backlog.  However I will probably be fairly quiet on the comments both on this blog and on others.  Though I regret to say that I haven't had as much time and energy for visiting others as I would like.  Hopefully I will return from holidays refreshed, if all the driving doesn't do me in.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: Christmas in July Cupcakes
This time two years ago: Balancing Soup and Scones
This time three years ago: Chickpea cutlets and gluten strings
This time four years ago: Mulled Apple Juice for a Midwinter Birthday

Spicy Pumpkin Tea Cake

1 cup sugar (I used raw sugar)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 cup self raising flour
3/4 cup wholemeal self raising flour
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1 cup mashed pumpkin

Preheat oven to 180 C (350 F).  Grease and line a 23 x 16 x 6 cm or a 9 x 5 x 1.5 inch loaf tin (I used a slightly smaller loaf tin and made about 6-8 mini muffin sized cakes).

Combine sugar, oil and egg in a large mixing bowl (or in a food processor) until light and fluffy.  Add half of the flours and spices with half the pumpkin and then repeat.

Spoon batter into the prepared tin.  Bake for about 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out cleanly.

On the Stereo:
Days of Future Passed: The Moody Blues

Thursday 21 July 2011

MLLA Chickpea, potato and tomato stew

Our heater broke down this week.  Our house is well insulated but we missed our heating.  We plugged in a cheap little blower heater.  It blew a fuse.  I was so glad when our heater was repaired - though we could very well do without the unexpected expense just before we head off on holidays.  However there are other ways to keep out the cold - stews, bread and chocolate.  They have all been present in the kitchen this week.  I blame the heater!

 Feeling time poor recently has made me turn to large dishes of lasagne, moussaka or rice bakes and big pots of stew.  The sort of dishes that can see you through the good part of a week without needing to do much in the kitchen apart from preparing a fussy toddler's meals (sigh)!  Again and again I kept looking longingly at Ricki's Chickpea, Potato and Tomato Stew.  It didn't let me down.

There are some food bloggers I love to read, not just for the witty repartee or the breathtaking photos but for the recipes that speak my language.  Ricki of Diet Dessert and Dogs is one of these.  My bookmarks are full of her recipes.  She inspires and intrigues with her innovative take on flavours at the same time that she creating amazing healthy alternatives to her favourite traditional dishes.

I am grateful to Ricki in particular for this stew.  It is a similar sort of dish to one that I used to make often.  I made it too often and left it behind.  The reunion has been a happy one.  I have changed.  Now I make my own stock.  I find it hard to cook without my favourite spice, smoked paprika.  I also loved the addition of mustard and would add fresh sage if I had any.  Not all has changed.  I still love more vegetables than most recipes suggest.  Serendipity had a hand in it too.  I added some lentils when there was a bit too much stock added because I measure it by the tubs I use to store it in the freezer.  This is not fancy food.  It is good honest grub that keeps out the cold.  Just what we needed.

Finally I wanted to mention a couple of revisions of recipes I have made this week.  Sylvia and I started to make her favourite Tofu Nuggets.  The fridge yielded no tofu but there was a whole head of cauliflower.  We made cauli nuggets instead.  They were so good I suggested they were better than chips but E shook his head and said, "not quite".  Almost!  I also tried making Olive Oil Bread with 2 tablespoons of whole chia seeds soaked about 10 minutes in 4 tablespoons of water and reduced the olive oil to 2 tablespoons.  The bread was a bit damp so I will experiment further before reporting in more detail.  However both bread and cauli nuggets were a good accompaniment to the stew.

I am sending this stew to Susan of The Well Seasoned Cook for My Legume Love Affair #37.  MLLA July 2011 marks the start of year 4 of this fine event that celebrates recipes using all sorts of beans, legumes, lentils, tofu etc etc.  To celebrate, Susan has a series of interesting guest posts by respected bloggers during July.  She has also started a new event featuring stunning black and white food photography called Black and White Wednesday.  Well worth a visit!

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: Tofu omelettes from China
This time two years ago: Pudding, Parties and Plate Smashers
This time three years ago: Vegetarian Cassoulet
This time four years ago: Hubert the Hog’s Head

Chickpea, Potato and Tomato Stew
Adapted from Diet, Dessert and Dogs
Serves about 6

1 Tbsp (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
2 medium onions, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 parsnip, peeled and diced
1 small turnip (swede), peeled and diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 x 400g cans diced tomatoes
400g tin of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 cups vegetable stock
8 small potatoes, diced
1 tsp seeded mustard
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp fine sea salt, or to taste
dash each of chilli powder and cinnamon
1 large dessertspoon of tahini
1/2 cup green lentils dried
fresh parsley

In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion and garlic. Cook until the onion is just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes, stirring often.  Add the vegetables and garlic.  In an ideal world, cook for another 5 or so minutes (I had to get to other dishes and just turned off the heat until I was ready to resume).

Add remaining ingredients except tahini, bring to the boil and simmer for 20-30 minutes until potatoes and lentils are cooked (ie soft).  Gently stir in tahini when cooked to give a slightly creamy texture.  Check seasoning and adjust if necessary.  This stew is hearty enough to eat without accompaniments but is great with bread and would be lovely with rice or other cooked grains.

Variations: May 2012 - made this again but had no turnip so I add a large handful of chopped green beans with the vegies, used puy lentils instead of green lentils, a 700ml jar of passata instead of the tins of tomatoes, and 1tsp liquid smoke instead of the smoked paprika, plus I added a little french lavender salt.  Fantastic!

On the Stereo:
Songs of an Impotent Troubadour: Tiny Tim and Current 93

Tuesday 19 July 2011

CC Vegetarian Moussaka

It was some weeks ago that I had a cooking session with my friend Yarrow.  He is currently living in Hong Kong without an oven.  All he wanted was to cook food that needed an oven.  An excellent plan given that it is the middle of winter.  I presented some options and he chose the Moussaka with Mushrooms, Lentils and Walnuts from the Cafe Flora Cookbook.

I love this book but you have to have time to make a lot of the main meals.  They often are fiddly with a few components to prepare.  This one was no exception.  The recipe took over 3 pages of text.  It required a mushroom lentil walnut mixture, tomato sauce, bechamel sauce, and roasted eggplants.  The cooking didn't go quite according to plan.  We made some changes, cut corners.  Used different cheese, didn't peel eggplants, didn't warm milk first for the bechamel sauce. The oven went off while we were roasting the eggplants.  The lump of ricotta that Yaz brought from the deli was too big but we just put it all in.
I loved the vegetarian "meat" in the recipe.  Mushrooms, lentils and walnuts are ground up to resemble the minced meat that I loved as a child.  I'd far prefer this vegetarian version today.  It is not a new idea to me.  Ricki's Meaty Veg Based Ground "Meat", Angela's Lentil Walnut Taco Meat II, Sarah's Super Vegie Lentil Taco Meat and my Vegetarian Haggis all give substance, texture and protein to vegetarian dishes.

As an aside, we also tried Ricki's Beet Jerky but it just wouldn't dry out enough to be chewy.  Maybe substituting cornflour for potato starch made a difference.  So that is a faux meat that I must try again before posting about it.  I can tell you that it was a tasty snack while we cooked!

Yarrow did the bulk of the work while I worked on other dishes and minded Sylvia.  She was too interested by all the cooking to be able to sleep.  Instead, she had lots of questions for Yaz: what is your name?  what are you doing?  do you need help Yarrow?  It was warm enough to leave the door open and Sylvia thought maybe she would take dolly and baby doll outside with their dinner.  Later, she was further charmed by Yarrow when he had time to sit and read her a story.

By the time we were ready to serve the moussaka, the topping wasn't as crispy as I would have liked but I loved the way that the juices were bubbling over the edges of the baking dish.  It was messy to serve when freshly cooked but once cooled, sliced up nicely.

We all agreed it was excellent - intense and substantial with the mushroom lentil walnut meat.  The ricotta made the topping extra creamy but I was surprised it wasn't as heavy as I often find lasagna due to the layers of eggplant.  E is wary of eggplant but it was soft and yielding in this dish.  Yaz declared it the best moussaka he had ever had.  I couldn't remember ever eating it before, though I suspect I might have. We followed it with Orange Lavender and Almond Syrup Cake and Mulled Wine while we watched Bagpuss.  Yaz left with packages of food and we were eating moussaka for a few nights to come.

The Cookbook Challenge theme for the fortnight just passed was Hearty.  This dish is perfect so I will be sharing it with my fellow challengers.  To see what they have made, go here.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: Lentil quinoa balls and fun links
This time two years ago: Frugal Freezer Stock and a WIP Stew
This time three years ago: Stouty Oatmeal Beer Bread
This time four years ago: Mushroom Yoghurt Pie with Spinach Crust

Moussaka with Mushrooms, Lentils and Walnuts
Adapted from Cafe Flora Cookbook
serves 6-8

Mushroom Lentil Walnut Mixture:
4 large portobello mushrooms
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup green lentils
1 1/2 cup water
1 bay leaf
1 cup walnuts
large handful parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

Roasted Eggplant:
3 large eggplants
2 tbsp rock salt
1/4 cup olive oil

Cinnamon Tomato Sauce:
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 onion, chopped
1 tbsp crushed garlic
1 tsp ground cinnamon
4-5 cloves, ground
1/2 cup red wine
2 x 400g tins of diced tomatoes
2 cups water
large handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp dried oregano

Ricotta Bechamel:
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup wholemeal plain flour
2 cups milk
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
pinch salt
freshly ground black pepper
about 1/2 cup ricotta cheese

To assemble: 
1 cup grated cheese (we used a mix of parmesan, smoked cheddar and mozzeralla)
1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs

To make Mushroom-Lentil-Walnut Mixture:
Roast mushrooms with olive oil in a 180 C (350 F) oven for about 20 minutes or until mushrooms shrink and smell cooked.  Cook lentils in a medium saucepan with water and bayleaf for about 20-25 minutes.  We turned off the heat and left lentils covered in a saucepan to absorb more water while we prepared other parts of the meal.  Discard bay leaf before using.  Dry-fry walnuts on a frypan until starting to brown and smell cooked.  Blend mushrooms, lentils and walnuts in a food processor until they are "the texture of ground beef".  Stir in remaining ingredients and taste.  Adjust seasonings as desired.

To Make the Roasted Eggplants:
Cut eggplants into 1 cm thick rounds.  Place in a colander and sprinkle with salt (NB Yaz had so many slices of eggplant that he had trouble moving them about, so use a good sized colander if you have one.)  Rest for about 30 minutes.  Rinse thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels.  Place eggplant in two greased roasting dishes or baking trays.  Brush with olive oil and roast for about 30 minutes or until "tender".  (NB Tender is how the book describes it, but I would say cooked through and even soft.  No one liked undercooked eggplant!)

To make the Cinnamon Tomato Sauce:
Heat oil in a medium saucepan and gently fry onion and salt for about 10 minutes until soft and translucent.  Sitr in garlic, cinnamon and cloves for about 1 minutes.  Add red wine to deglaze and cook a couple of minutes until most of the wine is absorbed.  Add tomatoes, water, parsley and oregano.  Simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes.

To make Ricotta Bechamel Sauce:
Melt butter in a medium saucepan and then stir in flour.  Cook for a few minutes over a low heat.  Gradually add milk and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens.  Add nutmeg and ricotta and stir to combine (I found our ricotta slightly lumpy but it didn't matter if it wasn't completely smooth).  Add salt and pepper to taste.

To assemble:
Preheat the oven to 180 C (350 F).  Grease a 13 x 9 inch baking dish.  Layer half the tomato sauce, half the eggplants, half the walnut mixture, and half the cheese.  Repeat layers.  Sprinkle with breadcrumbs.  Bake for 45 - 60 minutes.  Ideally let sit 15 minutes before eating, depending on how hungry you are.

On the stereo:
The Greatest Hits: Teardrop Explodes

Sunday 17 July 2011

Weekend eats: flapjacks and two soups

"Do you want a banana?" I asked Sylvia in the supermarket.  She said yes.  At home I cut the top the wrong way.  There were tears and pouts.  It wasn't eaten.  It got blacker and blacker until I had to do something.  Bananas are so expensive that it feels like a crime to waste them.  I made some flapjacks.  That was dessert to serve last Sunday when my friend Will came for lunch.  I also had a skanky piece of pumpkin that went into soup and a hard chunk of sourdough bread that went into Ribollita.

I try not to waste food in our house but it isn't always easy.  Some days the rejected dinner hasn't been touched much.  It can be recycled in a stew or a pasta bake.  Not always.  When food has been chewed, spat out, crushed and then thrown on the floor, it is only fit for the bin.  Or I find that Sylvia has given food to Little Dolly which then has sat about so long that it is no longer fit to eat.  On those days I wish for a dog or a chookhouse in the backyard to swallow up our food waste.  Last weekend I was pleased to be able to use up some ageing food in my cooking!

The flapjacks were based on Brydie's Banana Oat Slice with additional inspiration from Shaheen.  I used golden syrup and added some choc chips. I slid the baking tin into the oven and grabbed the car keys.  I asked E to take them out when the timer rang and leave them in the tin.  When I returned from the supermarket, the house smelt wonderful.

I had gone with Brydie's recipe that had more butter because I had thought it might hold them together but it was still a bit crumbly once it cooled.  Never mind a bit of collapsing in the fingers.  It was delicious.  Crispy, buttery, subtly sweet, undertones of banana, and studded with chocolate.
The pumpkin soup was a quick Saturday dinner while I spent more effort on a Ribollita soup (or stew) for Sunday lunch.  I had initially thought  I might make a plain soup of onion, pumpkin and stock.  Then I remembered that Lisa and Jacqueline's No Croutons Required  event had chillies as the theme.  At the supermarket I bought a red chilli, threw in some curry leaves I had in the fridge and a few favourite spices.
It was so watery that I threw some red lentils in at the last moment and simmered the soup for another 10-15 minutes.  The first night we served the soup with yoghurt.  I had the last bit a few days later for lunch with no yoghurt.  Both times I really enjoyed it.  Both pumpkin and lentil make for velvety texture.  Although it is not quite as hot as Lisa would like but I found it quite spicy and I know she would enjoy the mix of flavours.

I was a bit too rushed to stop and photograph the soup nicely.  I had Sylvia to get to bed, bread to bake and Ribollita to make.  When I was searching for ideas to use up half a loaf of good sourdough bread that had gone hard, I had found two recipes for Ribollita in my bookmarks.  Jamie Oliver and Heidi Swanson are well respected in the world of food.  I felt in good hands. 
Both of them used black kale but I was particularly inspired by Jamie's comment that it is a peasant dish.  In Melbourne, kale is a gourmet vegetable.  It was unheard of in my youth.  Far more common is silverbeet, which is known as chard in other parts of the world.  I decided to go with the spirit of the recipe and use silverbeet.

Heidi calls it a stew.  Jamie calls it a "silky thick soup".  Mine looked far more mushy than either Heidi or Jamie's photos but it was so silky that I knew it was right. I loved the way the beans broke down and thickened it.  The chunks of stale bread were softened but kept their shape and soaked up the flavour of the other ingredients.  It is a perfect winter meal but I am sure Ricki in Midsomer Canada would be pleased to accept it for her Wellness Weekends event.

When Will came around I said I had made soup.  He laughed when I served this thick mush.  "You call this soup?"  Well yes I do.  I love thick soup and am quite happy if my spoon will stand up in it.  I served it with parmesan and a slice of olive oil bread.  We had seconds.  E was lukewarm but he still ate it up.  I was happy to eat it again that night and the next day for lunch.  It was excellent.

After soup (or stew), we had a plate of caramel tim tams and flapjack.  I regret to say that the flapjack played second fiddle to the tim tams.  The former are decadent treats that I only bought because Sylvia insisted (well that is my story).  The flapjack is far more everyday and was enjoyed once the prima donna tim tams had disappeared.

It was good to catch up over a leisurely lunch.  Will and E love chewing the fat about obscure music and I am always interested to hear his opinion on politics.  Sylvia ate baked beans for lunch but had to have a taste of a tim tam.  Later she showed that she had been taking notice of what I had been making and offered bowl of soup, pumpkin, biscuit and cake.  She then found a jigsaw puzzle piece that has been missing for months.  Now where did that half eaten apple go to?

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: Syrup cake, shoes and chooks
This time two years ago: Andre's: our friendly local café
This time three years ago: Pumpkin, PC Stories and a Roast
This time four years ago: Sesame and Lemon Bread

Adapted from Jamie and Heidi
serves 6

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, diced
3 carrots, diced
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
400g tin of diced tomatoes
400g tin of cannelini beans, rinsed and drained
400g tin of borlotti beans, rinsed and drained
1 bunch of silverbeet, sliced including stalks
250g stale bread in chunks (about half a loaf of sourdough)

Heat oil in a stockpot and fry onion, celery, carrots and garlic for about 10 minutes.  I knew they were ready because they began to smell cooked.  Tip in the tomatoes, stir well and simmer for a few minutes.  Add remaining ingredients and simmer for about 30 minutes until silky and mushy.  Stir occasionally and add a bit of water when it looks too dry.  I think I added about 1-2 cups of water in all.  Best served after sitting overnight.  Serve hot.

Spicy Pumpkin and Lentil Soup
My original recipe
serves 5-6

2 tsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 red chilli
1 tsp finely grated ginger
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
dash of cinnamon
1 min
4-5 cups stock
1 small potato
650 pumpkin, peeled and trimmed
1 cup red lentils
1 tbsp maple syrup
handful each chickpeas and chopped carrots (optional)
Plain yoghurt or coconut milk (optional)

Heat oil in a large saucepan and gently fry onion for 5-10 minutes until browned.  Add garlic, chilli and ginger and stir for about 1 minute. Add spices and stir constantly for about another minute.  Add stock, potato, pumpkin, red lentils and maple syrup.  If you have a child refusing to eat dinner this is the time to put in leftovers such a chickpeas and carrots.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 20-30 minutes until pumpkin is soft and lentils are cooked.  Blend until smooth.  Serve hot.  If desired add some yoghurt or coconut milk.

Banana Choc Chip Flapjacks

Adapted from CityHippyFarmGirl

100g melted butter
2 mashed up bananas
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp golden syrup
2 tbsp brown sugar (maybe less)
2 cups whole oats
1/2 cup choc chips

Mix all the ingredients up in the order that they are listed. Press mixture into a greased and lined pan (I used a square 23cmx 23cm) and bake at 180C for approximately 45 minutes.  Cool in the tin and then cut into squares.

On the Stereo:
Spiritual - Magma

Saturday 16 July 2011

Easey Cheesey Scones

It is a day for enjoying the winter sunshine.  A day to hang the washing outside.  A day for walking down the street, with our little white cat in tow, discussing shadows.  A day for sitting on the swing in the neighbour's front yard.  A day for baking scones in a warm kitchen.  We original planned to make pumpkin scones.  There wasn't enough mashed pumpkin the fridge.  Instead we made cheese scones.

I found a simple cheese scone recipe from Lovely Wee Days that I had bookmarked.  Then I discovered we had no milk.  I turned to the ingenius idea I got from AOF to substitute soda water for milk.  I also had mixed the mashed pumpkin with some cream cheese so I threw some of that in as well.  I let Sylvia sprinkle the smoked paprika in.  It was a generous amount.  Kids are never subtle.

When I suggested cheese scones to Sylvia, she gave me her funny little nod of approval.  She was up to her elbows in the mixture and helped cutting out scones.  Yet when they came out of the oven she wasn't interested in them.  Maybe she ate too much cheese while we baked.

Both E and I loved the scones.  They were best once given a 10-15 minutes to cool down.  We had them with various combinations of butter, promite and the pumpkin-cream cheese mixture.  I found them terribly moreish.  Hard to stop at one.  Easy to just keep eating them.  Soft and cheesey inside.  Crispy cheese on the outside.  Not for the calorie- conscious.  Perfect for any cheese-lover.  Great with soup or for a simple lunch

I am sending this to the Bookmarked Recipe event that is hosted by Jacqueline from Tinned Tomatoes and was founded by Ruth from Ruth's Kitchen Experiments.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: Fish and chips – reflections of a vegetarian
This time two years ago: Pear and Walnut Chutney
This time three years ago: Tagged: Top Ten Photos
This time four years ago: Dench bread and Dukkah: simple pleasures

Cheese scones
adapted from Lovely Wee Days
  • 2 cups grated cheddar cheese (not packed)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (not packed)
  • 2 cups self raising flour (I used half white, half wholemeal)
  • generous sprinkle of smoked paprika
  • 1 cup soda water (or milk)
  • 1/4 cup mashed pumpkin and cream cheese (or milk)
  • extra grated cheese for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 240 C.  Mix grated cheddar and parmesan cheeses with flour.  Gently stir in soda water and pumpkin and creamed cheese mixture until the dough comes together in a soft ball.  Mine was really sticky and needed a bit of flour sprinkled on it so I could handle it.

Turn out onto a floured board and knead a couple of times until smooth.  Pat flat on a floured board until about 1cm thick (or a bit thicker).  Cut into rounds and place almost touching on a greased baking tray.  Sprinkle with grated cheese (I used parmesan and cheddar again).

Bake for 15-20 minutes.  Mine were still a little doughy after 15 minutes but a few more minutes helped.  Wrap scones in a teatowel.  Best eaten warm.

On the stereo:
With my Little Ukulele in my Hands: I'm the Ukulele Man: George Formby

Friday 15 July 2011

Paula's Carob Bikkies

I almost got this post up on Wednesday.  I didn't have any energy left last night.  Today I am determined not to let life get in the way of blogging!  This week has been full of getting a work project up and running, Sylvia crying in the night, planning for a holiday in a little over a week, cursing my computer for falling on my card reader (that downloads photos onto my computer) and schlepping a table and chairs through Ikea carpark while Sylvia sat in the road and cried.

The trouble with delaying posting a recipe is that every time I sit down to it I have different thoughts to to share.  Today I want to tell you that a stroller has the power to stop escalators.  Yesterday I wanted to tell you that Sylvia loves her new table and chairs so much that she has told me she will no longer be eating at the table with us.  But earlier in the week I started writing about sacrifice and kids.  This is my best thought out train of thought so I will follow it.

I heard someone recently say that it is no sacrifice to have children.  I understand.  "Sacrifice" makes children sound like they are a burden.  Yet having children does mean giving up.  I have childless friends who do a lot more travel and eating out than me.  They seem to have more freedom to uproot and change jobs or town.  Saying that having children is no sacrifice suggests we can have it all.  We can't.  Life is about choices, about decisions, about the road not taken. 

Having children means filling the house with their paraphernalia, taking 25 minutes to walk a couple of blocks, standing in the supermarket with a crying child.  This week when I got the car serviced, Sylvia crawled across the garage floor where the mechanics work.  You wouldn't want to see her knees after that!  I had to laugh.  It is all about perspective.  Our house is crowded with Dolly's pram, highchair, cot, supermarket trolley, pens, playdough, lego, dollies etc.  It might horrify some who value a spotless house but it fills the place with color and life.  Walking so slowing along the road is frustrating but it also makes me take time to chat to Sylvia, notice my surroundings and smile at old ladies who think Sylvia is a doll.  Even having a crying child reminds me that I am the one she turns to when she is upset.  Having children is a sacrifice.  Yet is it a sacrifice worth making.

Maybe it would be better to say having children means change.  Huge change.  Evenings disappear in a haze of eat-your-dinner, baths, stories and songs.  I spend more time at the park and less on my bike.  Even the food I prepare has changed.

It is very odd to be responsible for the food of someone who has different tastes.  I've never cooked eggs in my life because I don't like them.  Recently Sylvia has developed a love of boiled eggs.  Preparing boiling eggs has never been a basic skill for me.  Now I am learning how to get the yolk hard for Sylvia.  I am no fan of carob but Sylvia seems to like it.  She took a shine to my neighbour's gluten free carob cookies so I asked for the recipe.  So you can thank Paula for the post but don't blame her for all my waffle!
We took the cookies on a trip to Scienceworks a few weeks back.  I was ignorant of a huge new dinosaurs exhibition that had recently opened.  We stood in the long line for about 5 minutes.  It hardly moved so we left.  (If only we had bought online tickets we could have walked straight in.)  When we had set out, all Sylvia had wanted was to go to the park.  We were travelling by train so we stopped at North Melbourne station, watched some trains, went to the park and then had lunch at a cafe.  Sylvia was delighted. 

At the cafe I was reminded about our similarities and differences.  I can understand that she doesn't think ice cream is the bees knees.  I don't get her enjoyment of eating a plain pancakes and ignoring the icecream and berries that were specially served on the side for her.  The cafe was Tramezzini but it sometimes feels unfair to write up a visit separately when it is so coloured by my experience with Sylvia.  I can say that the staff were friendly and my Croque Mademoiselle of leek, mushrooms and gruyere on toast was quite good.

When eating out, Sylvia turns into a carbitarian.  I often try to balance these stodgy foods with food that broaden her intake of nutrients.  So I was quite pleased that she had one or two of these carob bikkies as well as her pancake.  Not only do the biscuits have carob but also a lot of quinoa flour, which is a complete protein. 

The biscuits are easy to make and if they are only made for one (as in Sylvia's case), they are easy to pop some in the freezer and slice up a few to bake every now and again.  Neither E nor myself gets very excited about them but Sylvia loves them.  They are not overly sweet and have some  health benefits so I don't get too concerned about her eating them.  In fact I am sending them to Amy from Simply Sugar and Gluten Free who holds a weekly event called Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays.

Lastly I wanted to return to the ideas of choice that I touched on with discussing children and sacrifice.  Sylvia has become a lot fussier about eating her vegetables (and often her dinner altogether).  Sometimes she will want a biscuit so I tell her that she can have a bikkie if she eats her broccoli (or tomato or carrot or sausage etc).  I don't insist she cleans her plate completely but I do say she has to have some of her vegies.  Occasionally I worry I am falling into the bad habit of bribing that I have read about.  However on my better days I think this is a way to teach her that life is about making choices.  After all if she can insist we listen to the Moody Blues, surely I can ask something of her too!

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: Nutella Blondies
This time two years ago: SHF Apricot sponge – by any other name
This time three years ago: Pumpkin soup and history
This time four years ago: Isa's Pizza - from disaster to delicious

Paula's Carob Biscuits
makes about 3 dozen

3 eggs
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 - 1 cup sugar (I used 1 cup coconut sugar)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (or 1 tsp vanilla essence)
1/2 cup carob powder (or a bit less)
2 cups quinoa flour (Paula used 3-4 cups)
1/2 cup rice flour (Paula didn't use this)

Put ingredients into a mixing bowl, mixing after each addition.  I took Paula's advice and added the flour gradually and stopped when I had a stiff dough.  She says hers is so stiff she can hardly stir it but I stopped when it came into a firm ball.

Roll dough into a log about 1 foot long and 8cm in diameter.  Cut slices of about 0.5cm - or a bit thinner if you like them crispy.  (Thicker are more moist.)  Paula says it is easier to cut them once they have been in the freezer but I didn't find them too difficult when room temperature., though it is useful to cook only a few at a time.  To freeze the dough, wrap log in baking paper and secure each end using a rubber band.  Biscuits can be cut and cooked with frozen dough (ie you do not need to bring it to room temperature).

Bake at 200g for about 10 minutes.  They will look dry when cooked but there isn't too much to give away if they are cooked because the dough is so dark but I don't think it matters too much as long as you don't leave them in too long.  Cool on the tray or on a wire rack.

On the Stereo:
The Bestiality of - The bonzo dog doo-dah band

Sunday 10 July 2011

Mulled wine and chocolate cake

Once upon a time in a city far far away I had a wicked manager who was a bully.  She was nasty, moody and made all her staff very miserable.  Fortunately, within a few months I was rescued by a fairy godmother manager who appointed me to a position in her section.  The wicked manager stamped her foot furiously like Rumpelstiltskin, though sadly she did not disappear through the floor.  My fairy godmother manager was very good to me and among her gifts was a recipe for mulled wine from her Viking heritage.

Actually Marianne was Swedish.  The city was Edinburgh: a place that appreciates mulled wine.  It seems like warmed spicy alcoholic beverages are much appreciated in its pubs and of course at the German Christmas Markets.  Great for the festive season if you live in the northern hemisphere.  It is also the perfect drink to keep out the winter cold. 

The beauty of Marianne's recipe is that you don't have to worry about boiling off the alcohol.  You bring sugar, orange, spices and water to the boil, turn off the heat, add the booze and leave overnight.  I have made it this way many times and highly recommend it.

When I made it recently, I made it a more traditional way by cooking it on low for 10-15 minutes.  It was the night that Yaz was visiting so I couldn't leave it overnight.  I was pleased to find it worked well that way too.  It was a fine accompaniment to the Orange, Lavender and Almond Cake that we made.

It doesn't need fancy alcohol.  This is not the time to buy one of those cheap wines with amusing names (such as "Scrapping the bottom of the barrell") that have always made you giggle and feel a tad suspicious in the bottle shop.  E's cheap wine of choice is a $5 bottle of what is known in our house as Chateau Crittenden.

As well as a cheap bottle of plonk, I had a bottle of spiced mead on hand.  In the past I have used port which I used to have around.  These days I don't drink as much and found the mead worked as well as the port to bring an intensity to the spicy warmth of the drink.  Anything will do - brandy, cointrea, muscat - whatever you have in the liquor cabinet.

We are not big drinkers.  In the past we have often not got through a whole batch of this mulled wine.  It will keep in the fridge for a few days.  You can even store it in the empty wine bottle if you can find where your funnel is.  (Where mine went is still a mystery!)  We were gradually making our way through it.  Then I had a brilliant idea.  Not only was there leftover mulled wine but also leftover orange syrup from the cake.

Many moons ago, I promised myself I would make Cindy's Red Wine Chocolate Cake.  A bit of orange and spice are always good additions to a chocolate cake.  So in went the mulled wine and the orange syrup one night between baking bread and watching Downton Abbey.  It didn't quite cook in the middle and it was a bit fluffy for my liking when it came out of the oven.  After a few days it was deliciiously firm and chocolatey.  I was quite sad to see the end of it.

I had a notion to take a photo of the cake with Sylvia's babushka dolls to signfiy the idea of a recipe within a recipe.  Sylvia had a notion to play with them so the above is the best I could do before she grabbed them all and I had to get ready for work.  That sort of signifies how I feel today.  I have plans for posts I would like to write, for ways of organising my house, for recipes to make and yet my energy and time is quite limited.  If only life was as easy as curling up with a cup of mulled wine and a piece of cake.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: Rhubarb and apple sponge pudding
This time two years ago: Sour Skon
This time three years ago: Miss Marple’s Tea Room – cosy charm
This time four years ago: Mexicale Pie - an old favourite

Mulled wine
From Marianne

150g sugar
350ml water
3-4 oranges
5-6 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
750ml red wine (doesn't have to be good quality)
60-80ml port or other fortified wine (mead worked well)

Stick cloves into oranges.  Place sugar, water, oranges and cinnamon sticks in large saucepan and bring to the boil.  Add wine and port.  Either leave for 12-24 hours or Heat on lowest setting on stove for 10-15 minutes - there will be a bit of steam but no boiling.  Serve warm.  We never drink it all in a night so it sits in the fridge for a few days and gets reheated as desired.

Spicy chocolate cake
Adapted from Where's the Beef?

250g butter
250g castor sugar (I used 1/2 cup - about 125g)
4 eggs
250ml red wine (I used one third orange syrup, two thirds mulled wine)
250g self-raising flour
3 dessertspoons cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
150g dark chocolate, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 170 deg C. Grease and line a 22cm spring form tin (springform isn't necessary but that is what I have).  Cream the butter and sugar (I did this by hand). Mix in the eggs and wine. Mull over the colour and whether it takes on the red hue of the wine.  Gently stir in the flour, cocoa, baking powder and cinnamon.  Stir in the chocolate.  Spoon the batter into the prepared cake tin.  Bake for about an hour or until cooked.  I am not sure how you check this. I found mine was best after sitting in an airtight container for a day or two.

On the Stereo:
Jazz for Dining: Various Artists