Red velvet cupcakes

Red velvet cake isn't particularly common here. I've only seen it at one wedding, and it wasn't until a new cupcake boutique opened in the CBD that you could buy it with any sort of ease. It's an interesting cake. It has a great texture, both moist and light, but is kind of blandly sweet until you put the frosting on. I've seen recipes that call for meringue frosting, but cannot fathom how anyone could enjoy that much extra sweetness on a cake that's already sweeter than most. The general recommendation seems to be cream cheese frosting, which I can definitely get on board with.


Red velvet cupcakes


125g butter
375g caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tspn vanilla bean paste
1 tbspn pillar box red liquid food dye
1 cup milk
1 tbspn lemon juice
2 tbspn unsweetened cocoa
250g flour
25g wheaten cornflour
1 tspn bicarbonate of soda
1 tspn cider vinegar

Method


Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Line three 6 hole muffin pans with cupcake cases. Cream the butter. Add the sugar and continue creaming. Add the eggs, half at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the vanilla and food dye and stir through. Mix the milk and lemon juice and allow to stand for a few minutes to curdle slightly. Add around a third of the milk mix and stir well. Sift together the flour, cornflour and cocoa. Add a third to the cake batter. Repeat, alternating with the milk, until all combined. Mix together the bicarb soda and vinegar and add to the batter while still fizzing. Spoon into cupcake cases, filling each around 2/3 full. Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Cookbook challenge - apple

After a run in with the flu, I've been  bit slack on the cooking front lately. We've been pretty much existing on fish and salad, pasta, and salt and pepper squid. Certainly nothing worth writing up a recipe about. Over the past two days, however, I've gotten back into things, and finally managed to get back to the cookbook challenge.

The theme for the week was apple. Rather than making an apple pie or revisiting apple sorbet, I decided to do something completely different. I found this recipe on a trip to the Fashion Capital, so I'm not even sure that it's in a cookbook. But if it isn't, it should be. It's Frank Camorra's Gambas a la Sidra.



The recipe calls for a casuelita to cook in, but since a trip to Simon Johnson failed to produce one, and I didn't have time to try Essential Ingredient, I decided to use the base of my tagine instead. Since I was making enough to feed four as a main course, I would have loved to have the Le Creuset risotto dish as an option. Not needing to cook the prawns in batches would certainly have sped up the cooking time, that's for sure.

Gambas a la sidra

Olive oil
1/2 clove garlic, chopped
1 tbspn parsley, chopped
4 large prawns
300ml cider

Method

Soak the casuelita overnight. Drain and dry. Slowly heat the casuelita over a low flame. Add the olive oil, parsley and garlic. When the garlic starts to sizzle, add the prawns. Cook each side for around two minutes until just pink. Deglaze with cider, then add enough cider to come just below the top of the prawns. Cook until the cider has reduced by around a third.

Coconut cake

I've had my baking hat on again over the last few days, partly because the weather has been hideous, but also to get some decorating practice done. This weekend I decided to try Planet Cake style decorating, complete with carving and ganaching. Being pretty sick of chocolate cake, I used the following recipe instead. As it turns out, coconut cake makes a very yummy base for a decorated cake.

Yes, it really is a coconut cake in there. 

Coconut cake

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cup caster sugar
4 eggs
1 tspn coconut essence
3/4 cup desiccated coconut
3 cups SR flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 lemon, juiced and zested
1 tspn lemon essence
3/4 cup cream
500g white chocolate

Method

Preheat the oven to 170 Celsius. Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the coconut essence and desiccated coconut and mix through. Add one third of the flour and stir well to combine. Add the lemon juice to the milk and stir. Add a third to the cake batter and stir well. Continue adding the flour and milk until combined. Place the batter in a 20cm square tin or 23cm round pan. Bake for an hour, before reducing heat to 155 - 160, and baking until a skewer comes out clean. If necessary, cover the cake with foil to prevent the sugar burning. Allow to cool in pan 10 - 15 minutes before turning out on a wire rack. Allow to cool completely. Meanwhile, heat the cream, lemon essence and zest in a saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat just before the cream simmers. Add the chocolate and stir until melted. Allow to cool and thicken for around 20 minutes, before whipping with an electric mixer. Slice the cake horizontally in halves or thirds. Spread each layer with whipped ganache. Top with remaining ganache, and decorate or garnish as desired.

Cookbook challenge - spice

So I'm thinking most people hear the word "spice" and instantly think chilli. I am definitely not one of those people. For the most part, I find chilli overpowers other flavours unless used in moderation. Sadly for me, this often means that either Mr Food Hits ends up disappointed through not enough chilli, or I end up giving him half of my food when it's more to his taste than mine. So rather than compromising, I looked for a recipe that emphasised other spices.

Molee, from The Food of India: A Journey for Food Lovers (Food of the World S.) is a creamy fish curry flavoured with turmeric, coriander and cumin, with just the right amount of chilli to suit my palate. It smells divine, and is a great way of getting more fish and less chips on the menu.


Molee

1 tsbpn oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 small green chillis, finely chopped
2 tspn ground turmeric
1 tspn ground coriander
1 tspn ground cumin
4 cloves
6 curry leaves
400ml coconut milk
1/2 tspn salt
600g fish fillets, skinned
1 tbspn chopped coriander leaves

Method

Heat the oil in a karhai or deep, heavy based frying pan, add the onion and cook for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and chilli and cook for another 5 minutes or until the onion has softened and looks trnaslucent. Add the turmeric, coriander, cumin and cloves and stir-fry with the onion for 2 minutes. Stir in the curry leaves, coconut milk and slat and bring to just below boiling point. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Cut each fish fillet into two or three large pieces and add them to the sauce. Bring the sauce back to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes or until the fish is cooked through and flakes easily. Check the seasoning, add more salt if necessary, then stir in the coriander leaves. Garnish with extra curry leaves.

Cupcakes and buttercream

I haven't baked much recently, and as a result, the fridge has been filling up with butter and eggs. So when I found a recipe for French buttercream, I just had to give it a shot. Afterall, the fridge had to be emptied, and I didn't feel like making hollandaise.

So to French buttercream, which has to be the richest thing you can possibly put on top of a cake. Unlike Swiss and Italian buttercream recipes, French buttercream uses egg yolks, not whites. That's right, it adds extra fat to the butter. The result is silky, buttery and delicious, and definitely not something you want to eat every day. It pipes a beautiful swirl, but is so rich you might prefer to spread it thinly.

This cupcake recipe is a great base for the buttercream. They're plain enough for the flavour of the icing to come through, but the vanilla bean paste makes them a little more special than an everyday butter cake or sponge.


Vanilla cupcakes

1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
1 tspn vanilla bean paste
1 1/3 plain flour
1 tspn baking powder
1/2 cup milk

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Line a muffin pan with 12 patty cake cases. Cream the butter at high speed until pale and fluffy. Slowly add the caster sugar, beating well until dissolved. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for at least a minute after each. Add the vanilla and mix through. Sift together the flour and baking powder. Add half to the butter mixture and mix at low speed. Follow with half the milk, then remaining flour and milk, mixing until just combined. Spoon into the patty cake cases and bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown and a skewer inserted comes out clean.

French buttercream

6 egg yolks
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup water
500g butter

Method

Using a whisk attachment, whip the egg yolks until very pale and foamy. Meanwhile combine the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to boil. Remove from heat when the syrup reaches soft ball stage - around 120 degrees Celsius. Remove from heat. If necessary, transfer to a jug or pan with a pouring spout. Add a little to the egg mix, then whip for 30 seconds. Repeat until the syrup is completely incorporated in the egg mixture. Reduce the speed to medium and continue beating with the whisk until the mixture reaches room temperature. Change to a paddle beater and add the butter a little at a time. When all of the butter is combined with the egg and syrup, add flavour and colour as needed.

Cookbook challenge - hearty

This week's theme was hearty, which lead to a discussion about what makes a meal hearty. We agreed that some soups are hearty, but not all soups are. I think stews are hearty, and that a stew that can't be described as hearty isn't a very good stew at all. My dining companion in chief disagreed. In the end, neither of us could describe what qualifies. I think this recipe is, he wasn't entirely convinced. Regardless, it's very enjoyable and certainly didn't leave me any room for dessert.

The recipe is from one of my newest books - Vegetarian Slow Cooker: Over 200 Delicious Recipes. I wanted dinner a little bit quicker than that, so cooked it all in my favourite French oven. It worked perfectly well this way, and I probably wouldn't get my slow cooker out unless I needed the oven for something else. I replaced the peanuts with cashews and cashew almond and brazil nut paste, as I prefer their flavour. Since they're not as strongly flavoured as peanuts, I think I'd use half a jalapeno next time, with the added benefit of letting the flavour of the ancho through, too.

All in all, my only quibble with the recipe is the name. Describing something as an "African stew" makes about as much sense as calling ratatouille "European". Still, that's the name the cookbook used, so that's what I'll go with.


African-style Peanut Stew

2 tbspn coconut oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbspn ginger, minced
1 tsp salt
1 tspn cracked pepper
800g tinned tomatoes, with juice
2 cups vegetable stock
1 sweet potato, cubed
2 dried ancho chillies
1/2 to 1 jalapeno chilli, seeded and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup smooth natural peanut butter
1/4 cup coriander, roughly chopped
1 capsicum, seeded and diced
1/4 cup roasted peanuts

Method

Preheat oven to 190 Celsius. Heat the oil in a large French oven or stockpot. Add onions, celery and carrots and cook, stirring, until softened.

Cook the vegies for around 7 minutes
Add garlic, ginger, slat and pepper, and cook for 1 minute. Add tomatoes with juice and stir well. Add vegetable stock and sweet potato. Place lid on pot and cook for around one hour.
Ready to go in the oven
Meanwhile, soak the ancho peppers in hot water for 30 minutes. Drain, discarding the liquid and stems. Transfer to a blender, and add the jalapeno, peanut paste, coriander, and around 1/2 a cup of the stew liquid. Puree. Add to the pot along with the capsicum, cover and cook for another 15 to 30 minutes until the capsicum is tender and the flavours have melded. Serve over brown rice, garnished with roasted peanuts.

Cookbook challenge - comfort food

I recently joined a cookbook challenge with the goal of getting some of my very neglected books out of the cupboard and into use. The rules are pretty simple; each week has a theme, the goal is to find a recipe, cook it and blog it by Monday.

The theme for this week is comfort food, which posed a bit of a problem. For me, comfort food doesn't normally appear in a cook book. It's stuff like cheese on toast, or baked potatoes with chilli beans. But then I started thinking about other things that I like to eat on a cold winter day, and decided it would have to be something you can cook in the slow cooker or a Le Creuset. The Le Creuset won in the end, mostly because I wasn't home at the time when I would have needed to get the slow cooker going.

The recipe I chose was Risotto Verde from Tasty Vegetarian (Quick and Easy Series).

Use a good stock or run the rick of getting a really bland risotto. I garnish with parmesan and toasted pine nuts, too.



Risotto verde

1.75 litres vegetable stock
2 tbspn olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 leeks, shredded
225g arborio rice
300 ml dry white wine
4 tbspn chopped mixed herbs
225g baby spinach
3 tbspn natural yoghurt
salt an pepper

Method

Pour the stock into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Menawhile heat the oil in a separate pan. Add the garlic and leeks and saute over a low heat, stirring occasionally for 2 -3 minutes, until softened. Stir in the rice and cook for 2 minutes, stirring until each grain is coated with oil. Pout in half of the wine and a little of the hot stock. Cook over a low heat until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Add the remaining stock and the wine, a little at a time, and cook over a low heat for 25 minutes, or until the rice is creamy. Stir in the chopped mixed herbs and baby spinach. Season to taste with salt and pepper and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the yoghurt. Garnish and serve immediately.

Spicy orange and red vegetable soup

Lately I've been trying to mix things up a bit in the kitchen. Mostly because I want to make sure we have a diverse diet, but also because I'm sick of cooking the same meals over and over. So rather than making a standard red lentil and sweet potato soup, I had a flick through some cook books for inspiration, decided on a recipe, than changed it to suit the stuff in the fridge.

The end result was a combination of sweet and spicy flavours that complimented each other perfectly. It's not a heavy soup; more a starter, or the main course in a meal that includes an energy-dense dessert. If you wanted to make it a healthy main course, try adding lentils or cannellini beans for a bit of bulk.

I'm not a fan of super hot chilli, so used Goya Smoky Ancho Piquant sauce, which is a blend of ancho and habenero chillis, with a little bit of other stuff thrown in for extra flavour. Its yummy, but if you can't get any, then Tobasco red or chipotle would do the job.

Spicy red and orange vegetable soup


1 tbspn olive oil
4 leeks
4 cloves garlic
1 tbspn cumin
1/2 tspn cracked pepper
1 large sweet potato
5 carrots
6 cups vegetable stock
1 red capsicum
1 orange capsicum
1 tspn chilli sauce

Method

Heat half the oil in a large stock pot or French oven. Chop the leeks finely and saute until softened. Crush the garlic and add to the pan along with the cumin and pepper. Cook for around 1 minute, then reduce the heat. Roughly chop the sweet potato and carrot, then add to the pot with the stock. Allow to simmer over low heat for 30 - 45 minutes, until the carrot is soft. Heat the remaining oil in a frying pan and cook the capsicum until soft and fragrant. Add to the soup with the chilli. Simmer another 5 - 10 minutes, then allow to cool slightly before blending with a stick mixer. Serve with sour cream.

Lemon sponge pudding

Lemon is one of my favourite flavours. Silly little personality quizzes always ask if a person prefers chocolate or vanilla, but I reckon chocolate or lemon would be a much better choice. Not that I don't love vanilla; I nearly always choose it over chocolate. But lemon is better. I love it preserved, turned into curd or marmalade, as salad dressing and in hollandaise, as cordial and sorbet, and definitely squeezed over pancakes. And now, I love it as a pudding flavour.

If you're the type of person who likes a packet mix self-saucing pudding, you can bake this and get the same sort of crispy top. If you've got the time and inclination, steam it for a softer pudding.

Lemon sponge pudding


1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 tspn coconut essence
2 eggs
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 cup millk
1 1/2 cups SR flour
1 cup lemon curd

Method


Cream the butter and sigar together. Beat in the coconut essence, then add the eggs one at a time, mixing well. Place the lemon juice in a measuring jug. Add enough milk to make up to 2/3 cup. The milk will go sour and get the consistency of yoghurt. Add a third of the flour to the batter, and mix well. Follow with half the milk. Continue adding flour and milk until all combined. Grease an 8 cup pudding basin if steaming, or a casserole if oven baking. Place the lemon curd in the base, then top with cake batter. Seal the basin and steam for 45 - 60 minutes, or bake uncovered at 180 Celsius for 45 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with cream, custard or ice cream.

Spinach and broccoli soup

By now it should be fairly obvious that I'm a fan of soup. This one tastes fantastic, and has the sort of silky texture that you normally only get from adding loads of cream. Despite that, it's very light, and would be perfect as a starter or for a late supper. Garnish with grated parmesan or a dollop of yoghurt for a bit of extra zing.


Spinach and broccoli soup


1 tbspn olive oil
1/2 tspn cracked pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
2 leeks, chopped
250g spinach, chopped
2 heads broccoli
1 potato, peeled and cubed
4 cups vegetable stock

Method

Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan or stockpot. Saute the leek until softened. Add the pepper and garlic, and continue cooking until the garlic is fragrant. Add the chopped spinach (in batches if using fresh), broccoli, potato and stock. Cover and simmer until the potato is cooked - around 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Blend on high speed using a stick mixer.

Warm and hearty

It's definitely stew season at the moment; we're having the coldest winter in the past 15 years. Despite being a great lover of all things summery, I'm handling it pretty well. Possibly because I've been filling up on warm and hearty soups and stews.

This recipe is really simple to make, without compromising flavour at all. If you're looking for something low fat and full of fibre, then look no further. If, on the other hand, you're on a low carb diet, keep browsing because this recipe is defintely not for you.

Spinach and chickpea stew

1 tbspn olive oil
2 onions, chopped
5 cloves garlic
1 pinch safron threads
1 tbspn ground cumin
2 potatoes
2 x 420g cans chickpeas, drained
1 tspn paprika
2 tbspn water
1 tbspn red wine vinegar
200g baby spinach leaves

Method

Preheat oven to 180 Celsius. Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan. Saute the onion until translucent. Add the garlic, saffron and cumin and cook until fragrant. Grate the potato, add to pan and toss to coat. Stir through the chickpeas and remove from heat. Place in oven and cook for around an hour. Remove from oven and return to stove top. Combine paprika, water and vinegar. Add to chickpea mix and stir well. Add spinach in batches, and cook until heated through. Serve with your favourite stew accompaniment.

Chocolate orange cake

Another family birthday, another cake to make. This one for little bloke's favourite uncle. He requested a jaffa cake, but I'm a bit over chocolate at the moment, so decided to emphasise the orange instead. The end result has the chocolate and orange flavours, without giving anyone a cocoa overdose.

Chocolate orange cake

Cake

6 eggs
1 cup caster sugar
2 oranges - juice and zest
3/4 cup butter
3 cups SR flour

Orange syrup

1 orange, juiced
4 tbspn caster sugar

Ganache

2 cups cream
700g dark chocolate
1 tspn orange essence

Method

Preheat oven to 180 Celsius. Grease and flour 2 x 20 cm sandwich pans. Beat eggs and sugar together until light and fluffy. Melt the butter and allow to cool, before mixing in orange juice and zest. Slowly add to egg mixture, mixing and low speed. Sift flour and gradually add to cake mixture. Pour into prepared pans and bake 25 - 30 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly before turning out on to cake rack. Meanwhile, mix sugar and juice together over low heat. Bring to simmering point, stirring to prevent burning. Set aside to cool. Add orange essence to cream and heat slowly. Add chocolate and stir until smooth. Allow to cool and thicken. To assemble, brush both cakes with orange syrup. Sandwich with ganache, and top with remaining ganache.

C is for cookie

Winter time brings out the baker in me, especially when it's cold and wet outside. Since I've been doing so much cake decorating, I'm almost sick of cake. So, the past two weekends I've made biscuits instead. Today's effort comes from the back of the Hershey's Cinnamon Chips packet, translated into Australian and changed just a little bit to add stuff we like and discard the stuff we don't. They spread a long way and make a thin, crispy biscuit. Keep your spoonfuls on the small side to avoid ending up with monster cookies.

Oatmeal Cinnamon Chip Cookies


2 cups butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tspn vanilla bean paste
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 tspn bicarbonate of soda
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup dried apple, roughly chopped
1 x 240g packet cinnamon chips

Method

Preheat oven to 180 C. Line a biscuit sheet with baking paper. Cream the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well to combine. Add vanilla and mix through. Sift together flour and bicarb soda. Add to butter mix and continue mixing. Stir through apple and cinnamon chips. Drop teaspoons of mixture onto lined baking tray. Cook 10 - 15 minutes until golden brown.

Slow cooker fish

It seems like every day is busier than the last at the moment. That, coupled with the way winter has hit with a vengeance, made getting the slow cooker out seem like a good idea. And so that's exactly what I did yesterday.

I've never done fish in a slow cooker before. It has always seemed like a bit of a waste given you can cook it up in next to no time on a bbq, in a fry pan or in a steamer. But I really felt like stew, and didn't want to spend a mountain of time checking or stirring dinner. The result was just perfect for a freezing night, took very little effort, and was pretty healthy compared to some comfort food.

We had flathead in the freezer, so that's what went in the cooker. I reckon one of the stronger tasting, firmer fish like barramundi or even swordfish would come up a treat.

Fish and capsicum stew


750g fish fillets, cubed
1 leek, thinly sliced
2 capsicum, seeded and sliced
1 tin tomatoes, crushed
300 ml fish stock
1 tspn ground turmeric
1 tspn ground cumin
1/4 preserved lemon, finely chopped
2 tbspn cornflour

Method

Place everything apart from the cornflour in the slow cooker and turn on to high for around 2 hours, or until fish is cooked. Remove some of the liquid and mic with cornflour to form a paste. Stir through stew, and continue cooking until mixture boils and thickens. Serve with brown rice.

Meat-style stroganoff

Now there are plenty of vegetarians out there who don't like to eat anything that even resembles meat. I'm not one of them. Given I've been eating fish for the past year, I can't even claim to be an actual vegetarian. Still, even when I was a proper vegetarian, I really enjoyed meat substitutes, especially when they meant I could continue eating my favourite meat meals without having any souls on my conscience.

When it comes to meat substitutes, seitan would have to be king. If you've eaten at a Buddhist restaurant, chances are you're familiar with the range of things it can be made to resemble. My favourite would have to be the tamarind "fish" at White Lotus in West Melbourne. If you're like me, and find the idea of making your own seitan to be too tedious, then lucky for you (us?) there's a growing range of mock meats available at supermarkets. The chicken style strips I used for the stroganoff come from the freezer section, and are pretty versatile. So far I've used them for fajitas and chilli plum stir fry. If you like your meat mock, give them a shot.

Stroganoff

300g mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tspn paprika
1 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 tbspn tomato paste
380g mock meat
1 tbspn parsley, chopped
3/4 cup yoghurt

Method

Heat around 1/2 tbspn olive oil in a heavy based pan. Saute the onion until translucent. Add the garlic and continue sauteing until softened. Add the mushrooms, paprika, lemon juice, wine and tomato paste. Stir well to combine, then allow to simmer until the mushrooms are tender. Add the mock meat and cook, following the packet directions. Finally, remove from heat and stir through parsley and yoghurt.

Exploding stars cake

Not a recipe, but another cake that I'm happy with. It's a white chocolate mud cake, covered with Bakels ready to roll fondant icing. I've tried using supermarket brands, I've tried making my own. This stuff is the easiest to work with by far, not to mention a fair bit tastier than others. It also comes in chocolate, and a range of colours. Definite food hit!

Best ever chocolate cake

Generally speaking, I'm not all that into Mothers' Day. Still, it's a day worthy of a cake, and a fine chocolate cake at that. This recipe makes something in between a chocolate sponge and a mud cake. It's worth making a day or two in advance to let the flavours develop. I covered it in dark chocolate ganache and topped it with chilli chocolate leaves, but it would be equally delicious with whipped cream or custard.

It's also firm enough to use as a tiered cake. I used it to make this topsy turvy for a one year old. The icing is Swiss meringue butter cream, but the cake would definitely hold up under sugar paste or royal icing.

Awesome chocolate cake


200g dark chocolate
1/2 cup butter
1 cup caster sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cup milk
1 tspn lemon juice
3 eggs
1 3/4 cup plain flour
1/4 cup self raising flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tspn bicarbonate of soda

Method

Preheat the oven to 170 Celsius. Grease a 23cm deep pan, or two 15cm deep pans. Melt the chocolate and butter together over low heat. Remove from heat and whisk in the sugar and eggs. Add the lemon juice to the milk and stir thoroughly. Add to the chocolate mixture, mixing well. Sift together the flour, cocoa and bicarb soda. Whisk in to the chocolate mixture. Pour into prepared pan/s and bake for 75 minutes, or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.

Serve with chocolate ganache or whipped cream.

Little pick me up

We're a bit sick of cake, quite frankly. It's birthday season, plus I'm starting another course, and the thought of eating more than a single slice of any cake I make is quite uninviting. Lucky for me, there are a few ways to get rid of unwanted cake, and most of them are pretty appealing.

We've had trifle twice. Interestingly I hated trifle when I was little, but have found making it with a vanilla bean custard makes it something else altogether. Still, a person doesn't want trifle every week any more than they want cake every second day. So today, I looked to the Italians for inspiration and have turned a vanilla genoise sponge into a tiramisu style dessert. Any plain cake would do the job - just make sure it's a flavour that blends well with coffee.

Too much cake tiramisu

Sponge layer

8 eggs
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
2 cups SR flour
2 tbspn custard powder
2 tbspn butter, melted

Filling

2 cups cream cheese
2 cups cream
4 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup marsala
1 cup espresso

Method

For the sponge Preheat the oven to 170 Celsius and grease and flour a large rectangular baking pan. Beat the eggs and sugar together until thick and doubled in volume. Check the sugar has dissolved by rubbing a little of the mixture between your fingers. If it feels grainy, continue beating until all dissolved. Sift together the flour and custard powder. Fold into the egg mixture. Finally add the melted butter, folding to minimise loss of volume. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until the edges have shrunk from the sides and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool before turning out, then set aside for a day to allow the cake to dry out a little.

For the filling Whip the cream and cream cheese together until peaks form. Meanwhile, whip the egg whites and sugar together until frothy. Place over a saucepan of simmering water, and continue beating while gradually adding around half the marsala. Continue beating until the sugar has dissolved and the zabaglione mixture thickens enough to coat a spoon. Add a little bit at a time to the cream mixture, beating until fluffy, and still thick enough to leave a trail when removing the beaters. Any remaining zabaglione can be used as a dessert sauce. Mix the remaining marsala with the espresso, using more or less wine to taste.

To assemble Slice the cake into at least two layers. Place a layer in a large baking or serving dish. Brush with coffee mix, allowing the cake to soak up a good amount. Top with around a third of the cream mix. Add the remaining cake layer, brushed with coffee. Top with the rest of the cream mix and refrigerate. Serve sprinkled with cocoa or finely grated chocolate.

Sunday night fast food

I'm not a big fan of Sundays. Never have been. When I was small, they were all about having my hair washed and detangled, which trust me, hurts a lot when you're a little girl with long hair. When I was at uni, Sundays were for recovering from Saturday night, followed by a mad sprint to get work done for Monday classes. For a while there, Sunday was brunch day, which I have to admit, is the way things ought to be. Whenever there was no brunch, there were lazy afternoons spent at a bar at the beach listening to jazz. Sadly, I don't live near that beach or bar any more, and family arrangements mean there's no time for brunch unless it starts at quarter to lunch. Now, Sunday is all about Bunnings and outdoor stores and feeling restless.

Anyway, the last thing I want after a hard day of fidgeting and buying hardware is to make an elaborate meal. A fast meal is an absolute must on a Sunday night. This dish is quick, simple and pretty yummy. As always, using the best olive oil you can afford will give the best results.

Pasta with smoked salmon, preserved lemon and capers


2 serves fettuccine, linguine or penne
1-2 cups broccoli florets
1 tbspn olive oil
4 tbspn capers in vinegar, drained
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tspn fresh dill, chopped
1/4 preserved lemon
150g smoked salmon
olive oil to serve

Method

Cook pasta until al dente. Add broccoli during last four minutes. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a small frying pan. Saute capers until slightly crisp. Add garlic and continue to saute until aromatic. Remove from heat and add dill. Remove flesh and pith from preserved lemon. Rinse well and chop finely. Add to caper mix. Drain pasta and broccoli. Tear the salmon into small pieces. Toss through caper mix and shredded smoked salmon. Drizzle with extra oil and serve with black pepper.

Creamy pumpkin pasta sauce

It's been a long time between posts; most of my cooking time is spent whipping up culinary masterpieces for a ten month old. Tonight, however, dinner was yummy enough that I don't want to forget how to make it. Once again, there was no time for photography. I really need to get back on top of that!

Creamy pumpkin pasta


1 butternut pumpkin, peeled and seeded
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tspn dried Italian herb blend
2 tbspn garlic infused olive oil
1 tspn minced chilli
1 tspn minced garlic
250 - 300 ml cream
1/4 cup pine nuts
pasta to serve 4

Method


Preheat the oven to 190 Celsius. Chop the pumpkin into small, roughly equal cubes. Put around half the olive oil in the base of a large roasting pan. SPrinkle with herbs, onion and remaining oil. Roast until the pumpkin is soft - anywhere from 25 - 45 minutes. Cook the pasta until al dente and set aside to keep warm. Heat the cream slightly, then add half of the cooked pumpkin and onion. Add the chilli and garlic, then puree until smooth. Stir through the remaining pumpkin and onion chunks. Place the pine nuts in a dry frying pan and toast until golden. Serve pasta and sauce sprinkled with pine nuts. Garnish with parmesan and season with black pepper to taste.

Orange and poppyseed cake

Today I made a cake for cash - not a bad way to make a bit of pocket money! The recipient requested orange and poppyseed, which I decided to dress up a bit with a cream cheese frosting and some white chocolate curls. It certainly looked pretty good, as to whether or not it tasted ok, I'll have to ask the person who bought it. Fingers crossed everyone loved it and I get a few more orders!


Orange poppyseed cake


1/2 cup yoghurt
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup poppy seeds
1 cup butter
1 cup caster sugar
2 oranges, zested
4 eggs
2 cups SR flour
1/4 cup plain flour

Method


Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Grease a 23cm pan. Combine the yoghurt, juice and seeds and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar with the orange zest until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flours and mix well. Fold through the yoghurt mix. Place in prepared pan and bake until a skewer inserted comes out cleanly, reducing heat to 150 Celsius after an hour if the cake has browned but isn't ready.

In a jam

I don't normally get much of a chance to visit the local farmers' markets - there are always so many other things happening on a Saturday morning. Last week, the Caulfield Farmers' Market was moved to start in the afternoon, and so I grabbed the opportunity to head over there. I managed to pick up some golden plums for a good price, and so this morning was spent making jam.

As I only got a kilo, this recipe doesn't make a lot of jam. But it's sweet and looks beautiful, and I think it's worth the effort.

Golden plum jam


1 kg plums
600 g sugar
1 tbspn lime juice

Method


Halve the plums and remove the stones. Roughly chop the flesh, and place in a large saucepan. Add the sugar, and bring to the boil. Skim any scum that forms from the top of the jam. Add the lime juice and boil until the jam reaches setting point - around 20 to 25 minutes. Begin testing for setting from 15 minutes onwards. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then bottle.

Chocoberry and cheesecake

Spincop and Banjo have a baby on the way and I volunteered to make a cake for the shower. Initially my plan was to make cup cakes, then Spincop decided that was her area of expertise. So I went with a chocolate cake instead.

Chocoberry Layer Cake


For the cake
100g dark chocolate
250g butter
125g sugar cup
2 eggs
1 tspn vanilla
200g cup SR flour
50g cocoa
125ml cup buttermilk

For the filling
150g frozen raspberries
100ml orange juice
125g cream cheese
150ml cream
125g icing sugar

Ganache and extra raspberries to decorate

Method

Preheat the oven to 170 Celsius. Grease a 20 cm cake pan and line the base with baking paper. Melt the chocolate. Stir through half the butter and set aside to cool slightly. Cream the remaining butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well. Add the vanilla, then the melted chocolate. Beat well to incorporate lots of air. Sift together the flour and cocoa. Add one third to the batter and mix well. Follow with half the buttermilk. Alternate adding the remainder of the flour and milk. Place in the prepared pan and bake until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean - around 1 hour. Cool in the pan before turning out.

Meanwhile place the berries and orange juice in a saucepan. Sprinkle with a little extra sugar and bring to the boil. Cook until the berries are in a thick syrup. Whip the cream and stir through the icing sugar. Beat the cream cheese until soft, adding the berry mixture a little at a time. Combine with the cream and chill until needed.

Slice the cooled cake into two layers. If the cake cracks, "glue" the pieces together using ganache. Spread the raspberry cheesecake mix over the base of the cake, then place the other layer on top. Decorate with ganache and sprinkle with additional raspberries, or serve with extra cream and berries.

Fishy fishy fishy fish!

No photo of this meal - it was so delicious we ate it before I had time to get the camera out! I'll definitely be making it again, though, so will probably get around to adding a picture later.

Generally speaking, I use cook books for inspiration, rather than always religiously following recipes. So nine times out of ten, if I'm cooking something from a tradition outside my own, it's probably not going to be all that authentic. Still, if the end result is something yum, I'm not all that concerned about how close to the original it is.

Last night's dinner was based on a recipe for sole with coconut and ginger. With a distinct lack of sole in the house, I substituted flathead, and mixed a few other things around to match what was in the fridge. For the original recipe, try The Brazilian Kitchen, which is where I got my inspiration.

Flathead with coconut and ginger


For the topping:
1 tbspn olive oil
1 green capsicum, seeded and chopped
1 red capsicum, seeded and chopped
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced

For the sauce
1 tbspn olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbspn ginger, minced or grated
1 red onion, chopped
100 ml lime juice (around 3 limes)
300 ml vegetable stock
270 ml coconut milk

200g flathead fillets
1/4 cup flour
2 tbspn butter
salt and pepper to taste

Method

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the capsicum and onion. Saute until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and continue cooking for another minute. Remove from heat and set aside. In another pan, heat the remaining olive oil and add the onion, garlic and ginger. Saute until the onion is translucent. Add the lime juice and reduce by around half. Add the stock and bring to the boil before adding the coconut milk. Cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture has thickened and reduced. Dredge the fish in seasoned flour. Heat the butter in a large pan. Cook the fish until it is golden on each side. To serve, sprinkle the capsicum mix on top of the fish then spoon over sauce. Serve with arrox loco or ensalata palmito.

Berry surprising

We recently signed up at Costco and, amongst other things, managed to snag some bargain frozen berries on our first trip out there. I have a feeling most of them will end up in smoothies and sorbets, but the first thing I did with them was to make this cake. I imagine apples, pears or firm stone fruit would probably make a similarly delicious cake, but with the frozen berries you don't need to do any preparations, which is always a bonus.


Berry surprise cake


1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tspn vanilla
1 1/2 cups SR flour
1/2 cup milk
1 cup frozen berries

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 C. Grease a 20 cm sandwich pan. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly to combine. Place the vanilla in the milk. Add a third of the flour and mix well. Follow with half the milk, mixing thoroughly. Continue adding the flour and milk alternately, until all combined. Place half the batter in the prepared tin and sprinkle with berries. To with remaining batter, and smooth to cover all the berries. Bake at 180 until golden brown, around 30 - 35 minutes, then reduce heat to 150 and continue cooking until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan before turning out. Top with white chocolate and citrus ganache or citrus butter cream icing.

Sticky rice dessert

Years ago I lived in a small town that had a tiny Thai restaurant. It was my first experience of Thai food, and to be honest, it was so long ago, I can't remember if it was authentic or more Westernized. Still, it set me on my way to absolutely loving Thai food.

One dish that stood out as particularly yum was their sticky rice, served as a dessert. This afternoon I suddenly felt like trying to recreate it. This is my version. Super sweet, very creamy and definitely bad for you. I'm sure it could be modified to be lower in fat, but if you don't have to, why would you?

Sticky rice


1 cup glutinous rice
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup coconut cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups water
1 tspn coconut essence
2 - 3 bananas

Method

Combine rice, coconut milk, coconut cream, sugar and water in a large saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring constantly. Simmer for 15 - 20 minutes until most of the water is gone, leaving a thick and creamy mixture surrounding softened rice. Remove for heat. Add the coconut essence and stir well. Mash the bananas and stir through the rice. Serve hot or cold.

For variations, try adding a tspn of cinnamon and replacing the coconut essence with vanilla. Replace the banana with apple or sultanas. Or add 1/2 - 1 tspn ground cardamon and forego the fruit altogether.

Old Keith's relish revisited

My parents have planted a vegie garden, and from the size of the produce, they seem particularly talented at growing zucchinis. These are seriously the biggest zucchinis I've ever seen, and they're beautiful and firm the whole way through.

With a surplus of zucchinis, the plan was to take the excess over to my Dad's mate Old Keith so he could turn them into relish. I don't know what happened to change that plan, but Mum ended up making a batch, then sending me home with a jar of her relish and four gigantic zucchinis to make another batch myself.

I had a look at the recipe and found out it was pretty much identical to most zucchini relish recipes online. The biggest difference being the amount of zucchini, sugar or capsicum. Old Keith's recipe is on the lower end of the sugar range, but a bit light on for capsicum in my opinion. What really stood out as a problem was that this recipe, the same as all of the ones I saw online, refers to cups of zucchini and onion. I don't know about you, but I find it very difficult to judge how many cups you can get out of a given zucchini. What I know now, though, is that ten cups of zucchini is around 1.5 kilos.

Here's the recipe, avoiding cups, and tweaked to suit my taste preferences.

Zucchini relish


1.8 kg zucchini
900g onion
4 capsicum
7 tbspn salt
4 cups sugar
800 ml apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tbspn mustard seeds
1 1/2 tbspn dill seeds
2 tspn turmeric
1 tspn cracked pepper
4 tbspn cornflour

Method

Grate the zucchini and onion. Seed and roughly chop the capsicum. Place in a large bowl and sprinkle salt over the top. Leave to sit overnight. Wash and drain well, then place in a large saucepan. Cover with vinegar and add sugar and spices. Bring to boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Combine the cornflour with a small amount of the liquid to form a smooth paste. Stir through the relish and continue cooking for another five minutes. Bottle in sterilised jars, invert for 5 minutes, then store in a dark place for a couple of weeks to allow the flavours to develop. Will keep for up to a year in properly sealed.

Baking a better sponge

My first attempt at sponge cake was pretty good but in need of some tweaking. The coffee flavour really didn't come through and I could taste the egg, despite assurances from everyone else that it was perfectly fine. This time I tweaked the recipe a bit to include some of the other ingredients I've seen online. The result was much better, a bit sweeter without being cloying, and still with the light texture you want from a sponge cake.




As it was a birthday cake, I decorated it with butter cream frosting and sprinkles on the side, butter cream frosting between the layers, and fondant icing on top. I think it would be much nicer with fresh whipped cream and strawberries, or perhaps a passionfruit glaze and whipped cream. I'll be making the basic recipe again and trying it out with loads of variations as it's really pretty easy when you've got a good mixer.

Vanilla sponge

4 eggs, separated
pinch of salt
3/4 cup of castor sugar
1 tspn vanilla essence
1 cup wheaten cornflour
1 tspn cream of tartar
1 tbspn custard powder
1/2 tspn bicarb soda

Method

Preheat the oven to 175 Celsius. Grease and flour two 20 cm sandwich pans. Beat the egg whites with the salt until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar and continue beating until the sugar has dissolved and the whites are stiff. Fold in the yolks and vanilla, being careful not to lose volume from the whites. Sift the remaining dry ingredients at least three times. Gently fold through the egg mixture. Divide batter into prepared pans and bake 20 - 25 minutes until sides have shrunk from the edges of the pans.

I can't believe they're vegan cupcakes

Smidgin is off to his first birthday party - other than mine, that is - this week, and I've volunteered to make the cake. Auntie Hotmo has requested a sponge cake for the birthday boy, which, after a successful practice run, I'm sure will work out nicely. One of the guests has dairy and egg allergies, and Smidge doesn't react well to milk either. So my challenge for the week was to come up with a cupcake recipe that's egg and dairy free, without using soy, which is just as likely to trigger a reaction in somebody. Here's what I came up with.




Banana Coconut Cupcakes


1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 banana, chopped
1/2 tspn vanilla
3/4 cup coconut milk
1 1/2 cups SR flour
1/2 tspn bicarb soda
1 1/2 tspn baking powder

Method


Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Beat the margarine and sugar together until light and very fluffy. Meanwhile place the banana in a food processor and puree until creamy. Add to the margarine mix and beat well. Sift together the dry ingredients at least two times, preferably three. Add around a third of the flour mix to the banana mix, and mix well. Follow by a third of the coconut milk and vanilla. Repeat until all milk and flour has been added. Place around a tablespoon of mix into patty pans then bake 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown. Serve with a sprinkle of icing sugar or decorated with vegan "butter" icing.

For a chocolate version, add 2 tablespoons of cocoa to the flour.

Spongebob round cakes

I've been asked to make a sponge for a birthday - something I've never done before but have been meaning to do for a while now. I started off wondering just how hard it could be; I've had cake fails in the past, but mostly when I've been inventing a recipe. Then I read this article and started to think perhaps it wouldn't be as easy as I had thought. This group certainly has some strong opinions on just how a sponge should look and taste.




Anyway, I got up early this morning and gave it a shot. I'm happy to say I got two beautifully risen sponges that tasted pretty good for a first effort.

Here's the recipe I followed:

Coffee Sponge

4 eggs, separated
pinch of salt
1/2 cup castor sugar
1 tspn coffee essence
1 cup wheaten corn flour
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tspn bicarb soda

Method

Preheat the oven to 175 Celsius. Grease and flour two 20 cm sandwich pans. Sift together the flour, cream of tartar and bicarb three times, incorporating as much air as possible. Beat the egg whites with the salt until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Slowly add the egg yolks and coffee essence. Fold the flour in to the egg mix, being careful not to lose any air from the eggs. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the cake has come away from the sides of the pan. Cool in pans before inverting. Sandwich with whipped cream and ice.

Birthday bonanza

I've been looking forward to trying out some cake decorating ideas for a while now, so volunteered to make a birthday cake for a joint birthday celebration for a couple of friends. As it turned out,  the party day was way too hot for cake decorating - it was so hot in the kitchen that the chocolate for the ganache stayed molten for hours after taking it off the stove. So after a couple of compromises along the way, I ended up with a cake that looked very presentable, if not quite living up to my original grand plans. Fingers crossed I can convince somebody else to let me make a cake and that their birthday falls on a day more amenable to decorating!


White chocolate mud cake with frosted berries

CAKE
375g unsalted butter
400g white chocolate
300 mls milk
2 cups plain flour
1 cup self raising flour
2 cups caster sugar
2 tspn vanilla essence
3 eggs

GANACHE
zest of 1 lime
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange
800g white chocolate
400ml cream

FROSTED BERRIES
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 egg white
150g small strawberries
100g raspberries
100g blackberries
150g blueberries

Method


Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Grease and line a 25 centimetre cake pan. Place the butter, chocolate and milk in a heavy based saucepan and melt chocolate over low heat, stirring occasionally. Set aside and allow to cool. Sift together the flours and add caster sugar. Make a well, and add eggs, vanilla and chocolate mix. Stir well, being careful not to incorporate too much air. Place in prepared tin and bake on the bottom shelf of the oven for 2 to 2 1/2 hours until a skewer inserted comes out clean. If the cake browns too much too quickly, cover it with aluminium foil. The cake should be golden, with a slightly sugary crust. Allow to cool before turning out.

To make the ganache, finely chop the citrus zest and place in a saucepan with the cream. Bring to scalding point, then remove from heat. Pour over the chocolate and stir briskly to melt together. When smooth, set aside to thicken.

To frost the berries, dip each berry in egg white then roll in caster sugar. Place on baking paper and allow to dry for around an hour.

Place the cake on a board or stand and remove any rounded portion using a large knife or cake leveller. Cover in ganache, placing cake in the refrigerator if necessary. If a smooth finish is desired, run a hot palette knife over the top and sides of the cake, otherwise add extra ganache to give a textured finish. Scatter the frosted berries on top, pushing lightly into the ganache.

Twelfth night

Twelfth night, or the twelfth day of Christmas, marks the end of the Christmas season. Celebrating the day when three magicians visited a stable in Israel, it is mostly observed in places with a strong Catholic presence. Sadly that excludes my home, even though I've tried repeatedly to get the breadwinner to swap a box of camel feed for a box of gifts. Luckily there are lots of food traditions associated with the day, including cakes.


The type of cake eaten for twelfth night varies from place to place. In my investigations I came across lots of sweet bread type recipes before finding the bolo des reis, or king's cake, which is eaten in Brazil. I'm not sure how authentic the recipe is, but it makes an extraordinarily sweet cake with a dense crumb, almost like a mud cake. It's delicious, but a little slice goes a very long way. I used dried apples, dried apricots, glace cherries, mixed peel and dried cranberries for the fruit.

Bolo des Reis

200 g butter
2 cups brown sugar
4 eggs
400g can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups plain flour
1 tbspn baking powder
1 1/2 to 2 cups dried fruit, chopped

Icing
2 1/2 cups icing sugar
2 tbspn milk
3 tbspn lime juice

Method

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Grease a 23cm ring tin. Separate the eggs and beat the whites until soft peaks appear. Cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg yolks one at a time. Slowly add the sweetened condensed milk, beating thoroughly to combine. Sift together the flour and baking powder. Add to the batter and mix well. Stir through the dried fruit, then add the egg whites and fold, being careful not to lose too much air. Bake for around 1 1/2 hours until a skewer inserted comes out clean. If the cake starts to brown too much too early, cover with foil. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Remove from pan while still slightly warm. Mix together the icing ingredients and pour over the cake. Serve with a strong coffee.

mmm... moqueca!

Despite being vegetarian for five years, ever since the small person came on the scene, I've eaten fish. I don't know if it's because I know I'll be giving it up again once he's weaned, but lately it seems like I just can't get enough. While I'd be happy having it lightly dusted with herbed flour and cooked in butter, I've also been trying to mix things up a bit.

Moqueca is a Bahian stew flavoured with lime and coconut. For an authentic version, you need dende oil, which I haven't been able to find. Apparently the dende can be replaced with African red palm oil, but I haven't been able to get that either. I also used my Le Creuset French oven to cook it in and not a clay pot. And finally, I used a red chilli paste, instead of the malagueta peppers the original recipe called for. Brazilian purists may well think I have no place calling this dish "moqueca" at all!

All the same, this totally inauthentic dish tasted magnificent, and will definitely be appearing on the menu again. Perhaps I'll have more luck finding the oil before my next attempt. I don't think I'll be lashing out on a clay pot to cook it in though.




Moqueca de peixe


850g white fish fillets
4 limes, juiced
1 tbspn olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tspn minced chilli
2 capsicum, seeded and diced
2 onions, chopped
3 cups crushed tomato
2 cups coconut milk

Method

Cut the fish into medium sized chunks and cover with lime juice. Marinate for at least one hour. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large heavy-based pan. Saute the onion and capsicum until the onion is transparent. Add the garlic and chilli and saute until fragrant. Stir in the tomato and cook for around five minutes. Finally add the fish and coconut milk and simmer until the fish is cooked through. Serve with rice.

Note: For Brazilian style rice, saute two cloves of minced garlic in oil until crispy. Add 2 cups of long grain rice and cook until the rice is transparent. Add 3 cups of water, cover and simmer until absorbed. Delicious!
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