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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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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