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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Saturday, April 30, 2005

My new knives

I had hoped to write a proper entry today but I've been in rehearsal all morning, and spent the last 3 hours researching and sending emails to 30-odd vocal ensembles in Italy asking for assistance with our European tour next year. Now I can't wait to get away from the computer!
So, today I'm posting some photos of my new knives I received from my mum for my birthday. Aren't they wonderful? I only wanted 1 Global knife, and I received 6!

Global is the brand of knife I've wanted for quite a while. I've tried other brands, and had always assumed that European-made knives were superior, but as soon as I tried these Japanese knives I knew they were perfect for me. They're made of one piece of steel (the knife and handle) and perfectly weighted. They look pretty funky as well, don't you think!
What we have l to r: paring knife; vegetable knife; 20cm cook's knife; bread knife; petty knife; utility knife.

I can also confirm how bloody sharp they are; one of the first times I used the vegetable knife I sliced my finger open, on the back corner (where it has a 90 degree angle). I didn't feel any pain, which indicates a really sharp knife has gone through your flesh but I suddenly noticed blood flooding around my hand. I grabbed a towel and wrapped it around, expecting it to stop bleeding in a minute or so, but an hour later there was still blood! Still no pain, but one hell of an annoying cut finger.
But I'm having great fun using these knives. Surprisingly, I haven't even yet used the larger ones; the vegetable knife and petty knife are getting the best daily workout, which is not really what I expected; I think they're just more useful and easier to use for a relative novice.

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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Market Fresh

Don't you love it when you can go to the market midweek, especially on a warm sunny day?
Here's my bounty I bought this morning - and it was so cheap! Well, apart from things I bought from the organic store; I always want to buy things from there, but they are so expensive compared to the regular stalls (ie $7.95 against $1.99 for a kilo of broccoli) But the regular stall was so cheap I had $10 left from my $20, so I decided to pop into the organics store and see if they had any Granny Smith apples. Yes, they were expensive, as was the pumpkin but they were playing classical music and the people were so nice. When they saw me struggling with my bags of too much broccoli and bananas etc. they helped me and said in future I could store any shopping bags with them when I went to other stores, and they'd help me carry bags to my car if needed. I immediately felt ashamed and resolved to go back there next time! And they played classical music!
So, broccoli, red capsicums (or capsicumber as my Italian nonna says), zucchini, pumpkin, autumn pears, Granny Smiths and bananas (79c a kilo, so I bought 3.5kilos....ummmm!). Yum!

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Wednesday, April 27, 2005


I've just found out A. and I are going to Brisbane for a couple of nights in a few weeks. I've never been to Brisbane, as my trips to Queensland have been to visit relatives on the Gold & Sunshine Coasts or for holidays in Cairns. We've been given free VIP tickets to the Rugby (Union) game up there - Canberra VS Queensland. I didn't grow up with rugby; I'm an Aussie Rules girl, but A. studied and lived in Canberra for many years and is a big fan, and I'm keen to learn! We've booked frequent flyer flights up there and found some cheap accommodation in a converted 1800s house today.
The weekend actually coincides with the vague date of our anniversary (vague because we can't quite agree on a date, or even remember when everything happened! But it will be 2 years to the week), so I'm wondering if anyone has any recommendations on places for dinner in Brisbane. Someplace not too expensive but good food and good atmosphere. Likewise, if you have any suggestions for must see sights in Brisbane, please let me know!

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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Anzac Biscuits for ANZAC Day

If you're ever given the challenge of making a traditional Australian/New Zealand food for an event, your child's school, whatever, then this is the one! A true, unique Aussie/Kiwi food!
Yesterday was ANZAC day here in Australia and New Zealand. In Australia, at least, the day is a public holiday, similar to the US Veteran's day, but in our case it commemorates the day of the bloody, tragic Battle at Gallipoli in Turkey during World War I. It is a day marked by services at Shrines of Rememberance and war memorials in every city and town across Australia, and the only day when it is legal to play two-up, an "ancient" Aussie gambling game involving planks of wood,2 copper coins and copious pints of beer!

ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and it must be remembered that during World War I, the Australian and NZ army corps were fighting for the British, under the British flag. The British army had sustained major losses and the Prime Minister called on the colonies to join fight with the British. Or to be more blunt, we were used as canon fodder.
That April 25 the British made a decision to invade the Gallipoli Peninsula. In order to distract enemy troops, they sent thousands of the Australian and New Zealand troops to land on the beaches. The thing is, the beach was surrounded by cliffs, and those cliffs were full of soliders with guns. Our boys had no chance, and that day thousands of young Australian and New Zealand soldiers were sacrificed by the British in a tactical error of enormous proportions. The Australian population at that time was only 5 million, and we lost tens of thousands of lives during a war that meant little to our country, but was fought with goodwill for our mother country.
It is now said that it was that event that shaped the Australian future. Suddenly we couldn't look up to Mother England as our protector as we had witnessed how they had treated us. It was at that point that Australia started to turn away from Britain, and attempt more independence. Commentators today say the Australian spirit of mateship and determination was forged at Gallipoli and all kinds of other sugary cliches, but it's not an overstatement that the easy-going nature of the Australians and New Zealanders was abused, and we were hurt and insulted.
I have to point out that I love the UK. I'm a great fan of Britain, but this is one event I just have never been able to understand and it still makes me upset. A lot my feelings must come from the excellent movie Gallipoli, with a young Mel Gibson which I recommend you watch (with a box of tissues). I had to watch this film in Year 9 history, and I remember being in tears all through the next classes!

But onto cheerier thoughts! One positive thing that emerged from World War I is one of the very few distinctively Aussie/Kiwi culinary creations, the Anzac biscuit. I took the following text from the Anzac Day site above, as it describes in more detail about these yummy biscuits.
During World War 1 and World War 2, Australians were fiercely patriotic. The wives, mothers and girlfriends were concerned for the nutritional value of the food being supplied to their men. Here was a problem. Any food they sent to the fighting men had to be carried in the ships of the Merchant Navy. Most of these were lucky to maintain a speed of ten knots (18.5 kilometres per hour). Most had no refrigerated facilities, so any food sent had to be able to remain edible after periods in excess of two months. A body of women came up with the answer - a biscuit with all the nutritional values possible. The basis was a Scottish recipe using rolled oats which were used extensively in Scotland, especially for a heavy porridge that helped counteract the extremely cold climate.
The ingredients they used were rolled oats, sugar, plain flour, coconut, butter, golden syrup or treacle, bi-carbonate of soda and boiling water. All these items did not readily spoil.

A point of interest is the lack of eggs to bind the ANZAC biscuit mixture together. Because of the war, many of the poultry farmers had joined the services, thus eggs were scarce. The binding agent for the biscuits was golden syrup or treacle.
As the war drew on, many groups like the CWA (Country Women's Association), church committees, schools and other women's organisations devoted a great deal of time to the making of ANZAC biscuits. To ensure that the biscuits remained crisp, they were packed in used tins such as Billy Tea tins. The tins were airtight, thus no moisture in the atmosphere was able to soak into the biscuits and make them soft.
I have to admit, I never knew that about the lack of eggs in the recipe before and found it very interesting. The use of golden syrup (light treacle) really gives these biscuits their distinctive taste. To me it's such a taste of Australia, so yesterday I couldn't not whip up a batch. They're incredibly easy to make and have so few ingredients. I cooked them up at my boyfriend's house where his cousin was also staying, and I've never seen two grown men get so excited about biscuits warm from the oven. Later on when A's dad turned up I fully expected he'd eat his way through the whole tin!
I found this recipe on Barbara's site, and it makes a great crispy biscuit; the perfect Anzac texture.

Read on for the recipe:

125g (4 ozs) Flour
150g (6ozs) Sugar
1 cup Coconut
1 cup Rolled Oats
75g (30zs) Butter
2 tablespoon Golden Syrup
1/2 teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda
2 tablespoons Boiling water

Mix together flour, sugar, oats and coconut.
Melt butter and Golden Syrup.
Dissolve Bicarbonate of soda in boiling water and add to butter mixture.
Mix liquid ingredients with the dry ingredients.
Place in spoonfuls onto a cold greased (or lined with baking paper) tray.
Bake 15 - 20 minutes at 180C( 350F). Make sure the batter is pressed down, because you don't want chunky Anzacs. That'd just be wrong! I went into the oven with a spoon half way through the cooking to press them down as I thought they had puffed up a little too much.
Barbara notes: The mixture may seem a little dry but it will bind together while it cooks. I used a dessertspoonful size and the biscuits were cooked perfectly at 15 minutes baking time.
This recipe has been adapted from the Edmonds Cookbook.

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Sunday, April 24, 2005

IMBB: Bitter-Orange and Blueberry Tart

Update! (25 April Melbourne time): I just realised, while desperately wondering if I have enough time to make my polenta entry for IMBB that this entry posted yesterday also fits the orange criteria! Why didn't I think of using it in the first place? I can be so dumb. So, here is my entry. And stay tuned to see if I can get my polenta thing on time (It's 14 hours behind in Cleveland and still Sunday night over there...!)

I'm writing this in between the wedding service and wedding reception of my friend's sister. They're off having photos taken in the grounds of our old school in the hours between events, so as I live very close to the church I've popped home to get into evening wear and faff around at home a bit.
I made this tart a few weeks ago because I had leftover sweet pastry from my little pineapple cakes. I lined a large tart tin with it and stuck it in the freezer until I had an opportunity to use it. I saw the recipe for this Bitter-Orange and Blueberry tart in Domestic Goddess in the meatime, and had a friend's birthday party coming up, so chose to use my tart crust for it. The ingredients and methods for the crust looked fairly similar, and it worked well.
I couldn't get Seville oranges, which is no suprise, because they're hard to come by everywhere, so I used Nigella's idea of half eating oranges and hald limes (I used a good bottled lime juice; fresh limes are so expensive!) I actually didn't have enough cream, so used some cream cheese mixed with milk, which made the tart taste a bit more like a cheesecake. In fact that's what most people thought it was.
This tart was, interestingly, most popular with guys rather than girls. I guess that's because it wasn't overwhelmingly sweet or gooey. The filling is nice and tart, and the berry glaze is fruity. I used frozen berries, as fresh are far too expensive, and in the glaze their presentation wasn't paramount. But, it was an elegant little creation!
Read on for the recipe

Bitter Orange and Blueberry Tart

For the filling:
juice (200ml) and zest of 1 eating orange and 1 lime or of 2-3 Seville oranges
250g caster sugar
300ml double cream
6 large eggs

for the pastry:
90g soft unsalted butter
75g caster sugar
3 large egg yolks
175g plain flour

for the glaze:
1 tablespoon arrowroot
50g caster sugar
2 scant teaspoons orange juice
125ml water
250g blueberries (I used frozen)
24x6cm fluted tart tin

Start with the filling, a couple of days in advance, if this suits. In a large bowl or, better still, a wide mouthed measuring jug, mix the juice with the sugar, add the zest, double cream and eggs, and stir to comvine. Cover and chill for 2-3 days in the fridge or leave for a few hours at room temperature.
You can make the pastry at the same time as you mix up the juices and cream or a day or two later. Cream the butter and sugar together then add the yolks one at a time. Stir in the flour to form a soft dough, then form into a fat disc, wrap in clingfilm and rest in the fridge for half and hour. Preheat the oven to 180c and put in a baking sheet. Roll out the pastry to fit the flan tin and line, pushing gently down so that it lies flat at the bottom, leaving a little overhang. Put back in the fridge for a further 20 minutes to rest again.
Roll a rolling pin over the top of the flan case to cut off excess pastry neatly. Line the tin with foil or crumpled baking parchments and fill with baking bearns. Put the tin in the oven for 15 mintues and remover the beans/foil/paper and give it another 5-10 minutes until the bottom has dried out. Transfer to a wire rack to cool a little and turn the oven down to 170C.
Strain the liquid mixture into the pastry case to remove the zest , put back on the sheet in the oven and cook for 45 minutes (itm ay be easier if you sieve the mixture into a jug and pour from this into the pastry case already on the sheet in the oven with the rack pulled out).
When the tart's cooked - and it should be firm on top but with a hint of a wobble underneath - remove to a wire rack and let cool. Unmould and transfer to a serving plate.
To make the glazed blueberry topping, combine the arrowroot and sugar in a small saucepan, then stir in the juice and water. Put the pan on the heat and bring to the boil, stirring all the time: it should turn clear pretty soon. Take it off the heat and add the blueberries, then spoon the now-glossy berries over the waiting tart. Leave to set for about 10 minutes.
Serves 8.

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Thursday, April 21, 2005

William Angliss Student Bistro - scenes from a comic film

For the first in what I hope to be an ongoing project of review of Melbourne restaurants, I'm writing about a lunch I had at the student-run bistro at William Angliss Institute of TAFE here in Melbourne. I haven't written many restaurant reviews on this site because I don't like bringing my camera out and taking photos in restaurants (I'm a bit shy...) and I didn't think anyone would have interest in reading about some random cafe in the burbs of Melbourne. But, a few things have made me reconsider this view; I've noticed Clothilde never takes photos of her dishes in restaurants and I still enjoy her reviews, and a few people have been writing comments about Melbourne so I'm going to write more about what it's like to eat around town here in Australia's food and restaurant capital.
Anyway, A. and I are both either suffering from shortage of money, or trying to save money for the future so I've stopped going out so much to nice places, and instead been focusing my attention on finding places that serve really good food for honest, decent prices (well, apart from my 8 course $115pp lunch a few weeks ago at Ezard. That still to come...). Here in Australia we have the opportunity to dine in restaurants attached to institutions that teach cooking and hospitality; I can think of at least 4 in Melbourne. The point is for students to have real experience cooking and waiting on real customers, and the bonus for the customers is that the prices are astoundingly cheap. The downside is that you may not be presented with a dish that is really restaurant perfect or you may experience service that has some way to go before being professional; but students need to learn and I'm happy to act as learning subject when prices are so cheap! At the end of the meal you are asked to fill in a survey commenting on what was good and what could be improved; I have great fun with those ;-)

The major Melbourne cooking college is in the CBD and has 3 restaurants - from a casual bistro to a full silver-service fine dining restaurants. I went last year with some uni friends to the fine dining restaurant, where we had an incredible meal with 3 courses of posh-sounding fancy food served with white gloves for $22! A and I are planning to return in a few weeks for our anniversary, but until then I'm going to write about a really amusing lunch we tried to have at the bistro on our lunch break last week.
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The William Angliss bistro is on LaTrobe St and doesn't have many tables, so bookings are required. A. works in the building next door, but I'm down the other end of the city, so I trained it down there and met him. Now, he only has an hour for lunch - strictly enforced. I'm a contractor so I can do what I like, within reason. I mean, 3 hour lunches are probably a bit excessive....but tempting! We were planning on having the 3 course meal with coffee/tea for $16, so our time was going to be tight. We ended up having a lunch that took nearly 2 hours with a collection of incidents that made us feel like we were in a French comedy film. We had a ball!- the service was so bad that we couldn't stop giggling. Those poor young students...

We came in, were welcomed by the supervisor-in-charge and assigned our waitress for the meal. She looked to be about 18 and immediately blew us away with her wondrous incompetence. We were seated, water poured, napkins unfurled and then she disappeared! Hmmmm. We were already down to 50 minutes to eat. She ambled back and explained the drink of the day, then asked A. what he would like.
"A Pineapple Juice" he replied
"Yep, ok!" she chirped...and walked off! Huh? But I was just ready to give my order! We looked at each other and burst out laughing - well, they're young, what can you expect?
A few minutes later she returned and with studied casualness muttered:
"Ummm....so you wanted a pineapple juice? And do you want anything to drink?"
"Yes! I do!" I blurted out before she could run away again.
The pineapple juice was freshly squeezed. The bread rolls were fresh from the oven from the baking students, and were marvellous on a cold rainy day. Yum! The restaurants are licensed and have extensive wine lists, but we thought it would be best to avoid wine when we had an afternoon of work ahead of us.
Our girl returned with menus, and we explained that we were on a tight schedule and could we manage 3 courses in an hour? We had to repeat this request 3 times because suddenly our girl apppeared to lose her comprehension of the English language. She ummmed and ahhhed, and went to ask the supervisor before coming back:
"Yes! Of course we can!!" Heh - I can just imagine what the supervisor said to her. Probably something along the lines of, 'of course we can you nincompoop, you just have to keep a close watch on them and collect their dishes quickly to bring out the next course'. See - we're doing out bit to set challenges for these girls (for they were all girls. And all blonde 18 year olds!).
Unfortuntately, she forgot to tell us the specials for the day, (oops) so I don't know what they were. But you can check out their Autumn/Winter menu here. Doesn't it look good? - especially at those crazy prices! What's on their site wasn't quite what we ate though:
Entree: I had a goats cheese and blue cheese tart on mizuna greens. This was really excellent. In fact all the food we had in the lunch was superb; the young cooks are to be commended. It's just the service that's dodgy. The pastry was particularly excellent on this tart. It was quite filling too, and could have done as a light lunch in itself.
A. had an Asian inspired salad of calamari and prawns on frisee lettuce, with an Asian style dressing. He said it was very light and tasty with great flavours.
Sadly, our plates remained uncleared on our table for far too long. I started looking at my watch in concern....yes, I'm sure we can eat another 2 courses and coffee in 25 minutes. I'm sure of it! Finally our girl noticed us shifting around trying to catch somebodies eye and took our plates. Our next course arrived soon after though, so that was a bonus point for them.

For our main we both ordered the same dish, which is something we never do. We both hate it when people on the same table order the same thing, but the day outside was pouring down with rain and howling with wind, so the Slow Braised Pork Belly on Sweet Potato Mash with Asian Mushrooms and Bok Choy was the perfect choice. This dish was just fabulous; I would love to eat it again at a more leisurely pace. The sweet potato mash was rich and buttery and the pieces of belly pork was meltingly tender, sticky and unctious. Cutting throug the richness was a reduction of pan juices with vinegar and a serving of steamed bok choy, and sauteed mushrooms were scattered over the top. This was the dish that I was tasting all afternoon, wishing I could eat it again. It was really excellent.
We had run out of water by this point, but neither our girl nor the girl apparently in charge of refilling water glasses (and not doing much else) were engaged in a long and intense conversation by the bar. Occasionally they'd look up, scan the room, see nothing very interesting, and continue their chat. The other girls seemed to be very busy dashing around doing....well...not very much, but looking very busy and officious. It was such entertainment to watch! I calculate that they were 1st year students, having only started the course in March. But, most people nowdays have enough awareness of cafe/restaurant procedures that they would know how to behave and perform if serving in a cafe, wouldn't they? That's my opinion anyway, but maybe these girls were unfamiliar with eating out?

The main course was very filling, but we still had dessert to come. In the middle of our main, however, our girl ran up to our table. We looked up in expectation...
"Oh!!!" she yelped. And ran away to the bar!
"What the f***?!" What just happened then?! Is it safe to continue eating?

She returned a few minutes later to tell us that there were 3 icecream flavours on offer that day. Would it not have been better to tell us this when we ordered at the start?? A. had chosen a trio of home-made icecreams in a chocolate lined brandy snap basket, whereas I opted for the lighter sounding wattleseed meringue roulade with cream and fresh berries. Initially the idea was for A and I to order different dessert and share. Well, you can imagine what the real outcome of that was! A. loved his icecreams so much that I was lucky to get a taste of each, although I noticed while the taste was excellent, the texture was a little grainy on the spoon.
His dessert seemed to be much larger than my portion, and I wouldn't have been able to finish it, especially after my large entree, so I was happy with my roulade. It was fine; nothing very special, but nice and light. I can't say I discerned any extra taste from the wattle seeds. A received 3 large scoops in a brandy snap basket, and he was as happy as a pig in mud snuffling his way through that.

By this stage we were so far over an hour that it had started not to matter. But we decided anyway to give coffees a miss and try to escape as soon as we could, but asking for the bill proved more difficult than expected as every girl wandering past didn't want to catch our eye (or give us any more water!). Eventually I bodily tacked one girl to the floor and demanded our bill - the grand total for 3 courses of really excellent bistro food and 2 freshly squeezed pineapple juices for 2 people was $34. Isn't that marvellous?; it's definitely worth the less-than-stellar service. But you see, I'm actually a fan of the poor service as it makes the dining experience so much fun! You can sit there thinking of all the wonderful comments you will write on your survey sheets at the end on how they can improve. I like to think that I put enough effort into such things that I can offer some valuable advice to these young students. Sadly, we were running so late that I didn't get to write down everything I planned, so it's a perfect excuse for a return visit.
If you've ever considered going to the William Angliss restaurants, or visiting a similar student restaurant in your home town I really encourage you to do it. You'll experience great food cooked by the next generation of top chefs at very cheap prices, and possibly experience some highly amusing waitressing antics along the way!

William Angliss Bistro
555 La Trobe Street
Melbourne. 3000
Bookings: 9606 2111
Open for lunch during teaching semesters
3 course plus tea/coffee is $16.

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Coopers Stout & Treacle Spice Cake with Pears

Derrick is hosting this month's Sugar High Friday with a theme I can get really excited about - treacle! Ok, technically the theme is molasses, but we don't call it that in Australia. In Australia we have treacle. Just the name conjures up images of Enid Blyton style picnics with treacle tart and treacle pudding and in Harry Potter they snack on treacle toffee. All of those things went through my mind and I wanted to make them all, but I narrowed my selection down to a cake, as I seem to have lots of cake-bringing-along occasions.
I think treacle is a very adult oriented taste; it's dark, smoky and bitter. Not the type of flavours that tend to attract kiddie palates. Even treacle tart, I noticed, actually uses Golden Syrup rather than treacle (although, thinking about it, Golden Syrup would be just 'light treacle' wouldn't it?). My mother always kept treacle in the house when I was young to make her favourite marinade for chicken skewers on the BBQ - treacle, soy sauce, fresh ginger, chilli, and that was the only way I ever ate it.
However, I've noticed in the past few month I have been getting a bit excited about treacle. My caramel slice used treacle rather than Golden Syrup for extra bitterness to cut through sweetness, and the Spicy Chocolate Gingerbread has been THE BEST cake I've ever made (I'm serious!). I was so tempted to recreate that recipe for this event, but instead I'll just point you to it. I really encourage you to try that one.

Anyway, I spent some time searching for cake recipes using treacle that weren't plain gingerbread; I wanted to set a challenge to myself. I found what I thought would be the perfect recipe from the ABC in Brisbane for a Pear, Treacle and Spice Cake that I bookmarked and decided to try. It sounded wonderful. BUT! Then I was reading through Deb's site and found a recipe for a Guinness Stout ginger cake that was full of treacle too! I've wanted to make a Guinness cake for a loooong time, and here was one calling to me. What to do? What to do?
I decided to combine elements of both recipes; basically just adding a layer of sliced, ripe pears from the first recipe to the second, and I think it worked wonderfully. It's Autumn down here and this cake just tastes of falling leaves and crisp sunny mornings.
I actually didn't use Guinness Stout as I wanted to introduce a slightly Australian element to the cake. I used Coopers Stout, which I prefer to Guinness; being slightly sweeter and smoother. Coopers beer is what discriminating beer drinkers order in pubs here. It's made in Adelaide by a family owned company, and is the closest thing to a boutique or microbrewery-tasting beer you can find on tap (if you're lucky to find a pub with it on tap rather than bog standard Carlton Draught or Victoria Bitter. No - you will NOT find pubs in Australia selling Fosters! We don't drink it.) My uncle just told me that Coopers won some Best Beer In The World competition a few years ago, but he didn't have any more details.

The pear flavour livens up a cake that could be just a bit too heavy and dark tasting on its own, and gives it a lovely complementary flavour. I'm really pleased with it. It's really sticky and moist too, which suits me fine as I hate dry cakes. The taste of the spices really comes through; I love the fresh ginger. I acutally didn't realise until too late that I didn't have any ground cardamom so I had to bring out the mortar and pestle and crush some cardamom pods....but didn't think that crushed cardamom pods would actually have a MUCH stronger flavour than dried cardamom. Ooops.The taste isn't too overwhelming until you crunch down on a not-so-finely ground piece of cardamom, and that's suddenly all you can taste. I don't recommend going this route unless you're very tenacious and vicious in your pestling!!
A few observations:
1: Warm treacle and stout mixed together tastes awesome - better than you'd expect!
2: The raw batter for this cake tastes INCREDIBLE. Seriously, I WAS EATING IT BY THE SOUP SPOON! I nearly chose not to bake it but keep it in the fridge to eat like a pudding - treacle, ginger, stout...how can you go wrong?
3: I think a zingy lemon icing would also do well drizzled over the top of the cake. I'm thinking of doing that when I serve it rather than bringing along a bowl of whipped cream.

Read on for the recipe:
Coopers Stout and Treacle Spice Cake with Pears

Adapted from the Epicurious website and the ABC Brisbane...
..." I use a panoply of spices, including cardamom, nutmeg, and a lot of fresh ginger, to give the cake a racy, intriguing flavor. The most unusual thing about this recipe is that stout is substituted for the water or coffee used in most gingerbread recipes. I find it adds a lot of richness and underscores the spices. Since it is made with oil, this cake will stay moist for several days. Dress it up or simply enjoy it on its own, with coffee, tea, or a beer!"

2 ripe pears - peeled, quartered and cored

1 cup Guinness stout (or Coopers if you can find it)
1 cup molasses or treacle
1/2 tablespoon baking soda
3 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup grapeseed or vegetable oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon grated, peeled fresh gingerroot

Preheat the oven to 175C (350°F). Butter a 9- X 5-inch loaf pan, line the bottom and sides with parchment, and grease the parchment. Alternatively, butter and flour a 6-cup Bundt pan. Line the tin with the sliced pears. Don't be too worred about placement, as I found they just began to float to the top when adding the batter. They should end up scattered through the cake.
In a large saucepan over high heat, combine the stout and molasses and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and add the baking soda. Allow to sit until the foam dissipates. Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk together the eggs and both sugars. Whisk in the oil. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, ground ginger, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and cardamom. Combine the stout mixture with the egg mixture, then whisk this liquid into the flour mixture, half at a time. Add the fresh ginger and stir to combine. Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake for 1 hour, or until the top springs back when gently pressed. Do not open the oven until the gingerbread is almost done, or the center may fall slightly. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Makes 8 servings.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Notify me!

Taking a cue from Zarah Maria at Food & Thoughts (thanks ZM!) I've installed a Notify Me feature for this blog. Sign yourself up to get an email each time I update so you don't waste time travelling over to see if things have changed or if I've posted some wonderful new recipe you have to try right that moment! It's located on the right sidebar underneath the list of other kitchens I visit.
I've signed up for Zarah Maria's list, and I'm interested to see how it all works. I had quite a lot of trouble trying to the html code in my sidebar, and couldn't use the format Zarah has, which I prefer. What's on my site is the best I could do. It's not aesthetically pleasing but, eh, what can you do? :-)

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Monday, April 18, 2005

Tarty Time!

A couple of weeks ago I had to provide some finger food for a fundraising movie night. I wasn't working that week so had the time to actually cook something rather than buying pre-prepared stuff from the supermarket as many others had to do. I decided to make little bite size tartlets with homemade pastry; reckoning they'd look elegant and impressive on a big white platter, but not cause me too much trouble to make.
My savoury offering was a recreation of the tarts I made as an appetiser for our Christmas day lunch. I used to be the type of person who would never consider making her own pastry for tarts or pies. To a certain extent I am still that person; it is just so much quicker and easier to use a sheet of frozen. But there are times when you want to spend a little extra time creating something where you know exactly what the ingredients are, and that you know will taste a million times better. This is what I've discovered with this pate brisee recipe I discovered on Clothilde's site. This pastry is fabuously easy to make; it's all done in the food processor, and the taste is sublime. Seriously, I cannot express to you how good this pastry tastes and how it makes my frozen pastry sheets taste like cardboard in comparison. Who knew butter and flour could combine to create something so marvellous?
Anyway, I added my usual 1/2 teaspoon of thyme to the pastry, which gives a nice subtle flavour and filled the tarts with spoonfuls of mascarpone cheese thinned with a little milk (it's just too thick otherwise). On top of that I dabbed a very small dollop of black olive tapenade. The tapenade is very salty, so I made the dabs very small and paired it with a very creamy mild mascarpone. The combination was delicious, and I noticed the tarts walked off the platter. They were particularly popular with people looking for something not sweet, of which there are few options at these sort of events (huge bricks of cheese and crackers are about it for non sweet eaters).

My sweet offering was one suggested by my mother and it was a really excellent idea. She reminded me of a recipe given to me by my cousin about 15 years ago (in fact, on the same sheet as the caramel slice recipe I used recently!) of a pineapple mixture piled into little shortbready type pastry cases and topped with cream. Yes, they're a little bit daggy and 1970s Country Womens' Association looking, but they're still popular! It's a combination that cannot fail to please - the pastry is tender and sweet, the pineapple is a little tangy with distinct biteable pieces and the whipped cream binds the whole thing together. I actually added a little coconut essence and lime juice to the pineapple mixture and combined the whipped cream with some coconut cream to give a little bit of a tropical pina colada flavour. Hey, if you're going to get wet you may as well go swimming!!
I love these little tarts, and it appears that everybody else loved these little tarts too! They were the first thing in the room to disappear (no doubt in part to my friends who had 3 each!) and as I walked around the room I overheard a few people talking about how good they were! Overhearing praise like that is the most wonderful thing when you've spent time and effort creating something you hope people will enjoy.
I do warn you though - I think 3 is enough for one person. A. asked me as we were going home if the recipe had come from a Womens' Weekly cookbook. 'Probably' I replied 'I can't remember. Why?'
'Weeell.....after 3 of them, they started to taste a leeetle bit like something from a 70s Women's Weekly Cookbook. They just needed one of those fake cherries on top!'
Hey! You've no-one to blame but yourself for eating 3 in a row!! :-)
Recipe follows:

Pineapple Cakes

Makes approx. 2 dozen

1/4 cup sugar
1/4 pound (125g) butter
2 cups self-raising flour
1 egg

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and then flour. Roll pastry out and cut into cup shape shells. Place into gem or fairycake tray. Cook on medium oven until golden brown. When cooked, let cool.

1 egg
1 tablespoon cornflour
1 tablespoon custard powder
1/2 cup sugar (I reduced this to 1/4 cup. 1/2 cup sounded far too much)
1 small tin (400g) crushed pineapple in syrup
A few squeezes lime juice (optional, but adds a nice tang)

Beat egg and sugar. Stir in custard powder and cornflour. Add pineapple then stir over warm flame until it thickens.
Put into shells after cooling and top with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream.

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Saturday, April 16, 2005

Redressing the balance

You know when your body is telling you you've had too much? You've overindulged in butter, pastry, chocolate, sugar, meat, whatever. You come home from work and feel hungry but everything you consider brings up a big "no" or "meh" from inside.
I have discovered an antidote; this soup is filling enough to fill that peckish hole and refreshing and cleansing enough to make you feel both better and virtuous!
I recently discovered the wonder of red lentils. Thinner than green or brown lentils they cook down in about 20 minutes to a thick, tasty sludge. I usually cover them in water and a little powdered vegetable stock for a quick, filling snack. No, they don't look appetising that way, but they hit the spot. Anyway, I defrosted some turkey stock I made after Christmas from the leftover roast turkey and set it to boil with a few handfuls of red lentils and some sliced, home grown zucchini. I didn't set my hopes too high and wasn't expecting much tastewise, but I was happily surprised. The lentils seem to add a nutty sweetness, and the zucchini tasted clean and fresh. My turkey stock surprises me with its sweetly mild taste each time I use it - perhaps I'm just used to using prepared liquid chicken stock, which is quite salty and strongly flavoured.
So, this was a great meal to redress the balance and make my body feel a bit less sluggish and tired. I've since made it a few more times, most recently using the last of the glut of green tomatoes I had - now *that* was a good combination!

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Honeyed Figs

Just before Christmas I bought a packet of dried figs with the idea that I'd stuff them with some goats cheese and wrap them in proscuitto to have with drinks, but they were the wrong sort to do that. These are the really dehydrated, scary, shrivelled up, kangaroo poo looking pellets, not the slightly moist, chewy things you need for that idea. Sure, I could have soaked them but things are busy enough around Christmas. I bought them as an easy-to-prepare idea, and they weren't easy to prepare, so I threw them up on the shelf, where they remained, occasionally being subjected to my accusing beady eye. I felt like they were taunting me with their shrivelled ugliness and I wanted to soak the hell out of them and make them scream ....umm.... restore them lovingly to life. Yes, that's it. A beautiful reincarnation. Ahem.

So, I flicked through a few books and found something that jumped out at me towards the end of Nigella's book, Feast, in her chapter on mezze feasts for Honeyed Figs. They used cardamom pods, bay leaves, pistachios and orange peel as well as honey, which made it sound an interesting combination of sweet, savoury and spicy. It was really easy to do; I had the pot bubbling away while I made something else at the same time. I halved the recipe to fit the amount of figs I had, and hit a problem near the end when I found most of my liquid had boiled away, leaving me with none to boil down further. This may have had something to do with me getting distracted and popping into the study to check my emails.... :-), but I just added a few splashes of water and all seemed fine. In fact, I think it's even better for the syrup boiling down because some figs became really dark and sticky where they sat on the pan (see the bottom fig in the photo). Hey, I created a version of Fig Pot Stickers!
These figs are still seedy; their seeds seem to explode throughout the syrup too, so if you're one of the many not keen on the texture of figs, you may not like it. The combination of flavours, though, is wonderful; it tastes really exotic and middle-eastern - the cardamom especially adds a great touch.

But I find myself with a dilemma. They are lovely on their own or with some yoghurt. But I think they'd also be wonderful used with my original idea of some goats cheese and wrapped in proscuitto. Alternatively, I'm also having ideas of dipping them into dark chocolate - I think they'd work that way too. I don't have enough to do both, so what would you recommend???
Read on for the recipe:

Honeyed Figs
From 'Feast'

Note: This recipe uses the 'ugly' organic, real dried figs which are truly parched and need a lot of liquid to rehydrate. If using those squishy plump dried figs from a packet, reduce cooking time and halve the water and honey.

1 litre water
350g honey
3 bay leaves
2 cardamom pods, bruised
(I'd recommend more than this. Maybe 4?)
2 strips orange peel, about 12cm
60ml fresh orange juice
500g organic dried figs
To serve:
1 tablespoon nibbed, splintered or chopped pistachios
Creme fraiche or Greek yoghurt (optional)

Put the water in a pan and stir in the honey to dissolve over a low heat. Add the bay leaves, bruised cardamom pods, orange peel and juice, and bring to the boil. Let the syrup bubble for 10 minutes.
Add the figs and cook for 30 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the figs stand in the hot liquid for 10-15 minutes. Remove the figs to a contained using a skimmer. Put the syrup back on the heat and bring back to the boil, letting it bubble away for 5 minutes. It should have reduced to about 375ml or just over a third of your original liquid. Put the figs back into the reduced syrup and let cool. Store in a jar until you want to use them.
To serve, put the figs in a bowl, pouring over a scant amount of syrup and scatter over the pistachios. And pass around the creme fraiche or Greek yogurt.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Search terms


Ohmygawd. I've just found THE BEST search terms somebody used in Google to find my site.

Are you ready?

This is what they typed to find me:

dirty underwear in a saucepan

What the F***??!!!! I have to say I burst out in hysterical laughter. What kind of weirdo is looking for saucepans filled with dirty panties?? I'm still laughing about it.
If you're interested in seeing what other odd (though less odd than the one above) search terms people used to find this site, then read on!

All phrases appear exactly how the user typed them in to the Google search box:

my lebkuchens taste horrible (hope I wasn't able to help there. My lebkuchen taste great!)

nasty niki, australia (I really hope they weren't looking for me)

homemade blankets such as powder puffs (eh?)

precipitation with gelatine (WTF is this??)

duck confit recipe weblog boyfriend (odd combo there)

"danish wine" "high alcohol" (fantastic! Must ask Zarah Maria about this!)

a variation of the straight dough method where the dough can be in the refirgerator overnig (this is one of my favourites. This person evidently has no idea how to use Google effectively. They even ran out of room in the search box!)

american stores that carry truffes fantaisie (can't help you there. Sorry.)

Pavlova + egg white measurement in liquid (this sounds interesting...)

food pairing "australian pinot noir" (Duck. Duck is the PERFECT pairing)

Cheesecake recipes +cakey+Japanese (erm...cakey cake?)

citrus fruit refridgerate in humidity (Is this an issue?)

vintae german tea set (Sounds good...if in fact, it's a vintage set you want. How they found my site with these words is intriguing)

recipe for dutch babycakes (there are Dutch babycakes? Tell me more!)

australian womens weekly magazine biscuits and slices 1985 (heh. I own this book!)

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Baking with plastic wrap?

Anne just wrote a funny post about a disastrous cooking evening, which was topped off by trying the method in Nigella's new book, Feast, for lining a cake tin with plastic wrap. Her wrap melted instantly and leaked into the cake, making an awful-sounding toxic mess. The amount of comments left condeming this wacky idea has galvanised me into action....

...because, yes! This method actually *does* work! At least, it has for me.

Wtiness! I tried her method a few months back, convinced it wouldn't work. I mean, it sounds SO stupid! Lining a cake tin with thin plastic wrap you use to wrap sandwiches?? Did she use some amazing super-strength plastic wrap you can only buy in the UK?? She must have gone crazy! I decided to give it a go anyway; I didn't have much to lose if the cake failed.
The first few seconds were hairy as it seemed to curl up and looked like it was about to collapse in a melted mass, but something happened...it stopped - and just sat there happily lining my cake. In fact, after taking the cake out and cooling it, I noticed the plastic wrap had actually become harder and more solid! I've taken to using this trick a lot now, because I keep forgetting to buy more greaseproof paper when I'm at the supermarket.
So, I wonder why it worked for me (and Nigella) but failed miserably for Anne? I used a metal cake tin, but I'm sure Anne did too. Is the type of plastic wrap so different in Sweden? I just used the bog standard stuff you get in a roll and get into a furious mess with when you can't tear it off cleanly and stop itself folding over and sticking to itself...
I'm really curious....why this dramatic difference in results??

In other news - I receive a late birthday present from friends of a $50 voucher to use at Books For Cooks! Yay! I have a few ideas, but does anyone have any must-have recommendations?

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Sunday, April 10, 2005

Dense Chocolate Cupcakes

Cupcakes, with icing still cold from fridge

These are the ultimate decadent chocolate cupcakes. The type that make everyone moan in ecstasy, their eyes rolling back in their head as they make whimpering noises of defeat. You could capture a country with these cupcakes, and I'd think they'd be happy to surrender! They are the recipe for Nigella's Dense Chocolate Loaf, from Domestic Goddess, made into cupcake form and iced very thickly with gooey chocolate buttercream.

An example of how powerful these are: my younger brother and two of his friends turned up just as I was icing these, still slightly warm from the oven. I think they'd just been at the pub, and were keen for food. Now, 24 year old boys are usually the type to knock back chocolatey, sugary, cakey delights in favour of salty chips and fat sausages, when they get a craving. In other words, they're not the type to really appreciate a good chocolate cupcake. But the longing looks they gave me prompted me to hand over a few of my bodgy-looking examples. Their obvious ecstasy was amazing! They moaned, they sighed, they closed their eyes to increase the enjoyment...they even licked the cases clean!! AND they talked about them all night! Most of them hadn't had a cupcake since they went to birthday parties as kids, so I think I've set them on a downward spiral - I wouldn't be surprised if I get a few commissions for upcoming 25th birthday parties!

Cupcakes, with gooey icing at room temperature

I actually made these for a Tupperware party I was going to (my very first), and I was encouraged to find the girls there had exactly the same reaction as the boys. A couple of them had to sit down, put away their Tupperware catalogues and concentrate fully on the Splendour Of The Chocolate. The cake recipe itself is fantastic, full of soft brown sugar and a huge chocolate flavour for so little chocolate used - and it improves after a few days; a bit like gingerbread, they become denser and the flavour intensifies. The texture is amazing; yes, they are dense, but they are also light and soft. I made these on Thursday for a Saturday night party, and stored them, iced, in the fridge - so they were just perfect.
The cakes sink in the middle, as they are so moist, so icing them meant that I first had to fill the hole with rich, gooey chocolate icing, then start icing the top; there were serious amounts of chocolate icing on these cakes. A definite sugar high! Nigella actually has a recipe for chocolate ganache to top these, but I used modified some leftover icing I'd frozen from A's Chocolate Fudge Cake (details below)
I totally recommend making these if you want to wow your audience - of girls OR boys! (or if you are planning a takeover of a country...)
Read on for the recipe:

Dense Chocolate Cupcakes
Variation on Dense Chocolate Loaf, from Nigella's Domestic Goddess
Amounts here are for the cupcakes; the loaf uses double the ingredients and a longer cooking time and temperature.

110g unsalted butter
200g dark brown sugar (or muscovado)
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
50g dark chocolate, melted and cooled a little
100g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
125ml boiling water
175g dark chocolate
75g milk chocolate
200ml double cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
*When I made A's Chocolate Fudge Cake a few weeks ago, I had a lot of fudge icing left over, so I stuck it in the freezer for another project. Pulling it out for these, I intensified the flavour with a few teaspoons of cocoa powder and 1/2 teaspoon of instant coffee powder dissolved in a little hot water, as I thought the icing was a lacking a bit in flavour last time. This made a truly spectacular icing! Go to that recipe if you want that fudge icing recipe.
12-bun muffin tray

Preheat the oven to 180C, put in a baking sheet in case of sticky drips later; this is a very damp cake.
Cream the butter and sugar then add the eggs and vanilla, beating in as well. Next, fold in the melted and now slightly cooled chocolate, taking care to blend well but being careful not to overbeat. You want the ingredients combined: you don't want a light, airy mass. Then gently add the flour, to which you've added the bicarb, alternatively spoon by spoon, with the boiling water until you have a smooth and fairly liquid batter. Fill the 12 muffin paper cases in the muffin tin. Bake for 30 minutes, removed from the tin and cool on a rack.
To make the icing, break all the chocolate into pieces (you may want to use all dark chocolate) and heat with the cream and vanilla in a saucepan until it has melted. Whisk until it's a good consistency for icing, and spoon some onto each thoroughly cooled cake. Spread with the back of a spoon. Leave to set somewhere cool, though preferably not in the fridge.

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Thursday, April 07, 2005

Green tomato, broccoli & cornmeal upside-down cake

This is variation of the broccoli/cornmeal upside-down cake as invented by Clothilde, and enthusiastically adopted by so many other food-bloggers. I first tried it last year, with huge success, and keep it in my current repertoire. It's healthy, light but tasty and portable. In fact, next time I might try making it in a muffin-tray, so I can take individual portions to work for a snack.
This recipe certainly is fiddle-proof. I made a few modifications this time, which haven't seemed to to ruin the recipe. I didn't have any yoghurt, so I just used milk with a little extra cottage cheese. Incidentally, did you know that you can make your own cottage cheese by adding 2 teaspoons of vinegar to a pan of milk over heat? I learnt that reading Lynn's blog, when she was making this very recipe too!
Most obviously, I used this as a vehicle to use up some more of my copious amounts of green tomatoes, and I think it worked well. I've been constantly surprised how not awful unripe green tomatoes taste. In fact, they're downright tasty! I lined the cake tin with these first, before adding the broccoli, and some choppsed spring onions I had malingering in the vegetable crisper (definitely no longer crisp). I decided to add a layer of grated cheddar cheese before adding the batter....cheese = yum.
With the batter, I decided to use up the rest of a tub of black olive tapenade, and added it to the wet ingedients, which gives a nice flavour to the cakey part. So, you see, it seems you can do practically anything to this recipe, and it still works out great!
Read on for the recipe:

Broccoli and Cornmeal Upside Down Cake
This is taken from Chocolate & Zucchini, as Clothide's Master Recipe (the urtext!). As demonstrated, you can alter lots of things with it!

-One head of broccoli
- 200 g (3/4 C) cottage cheese
- 125 g (1/2 C) plain yogurt
- 2 eggs
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 C yellow cornmeal (polenta)
- 1/2 C whole wheat or all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- a handful of brown raisins
- a handful of walnuts, toasted and chopped
- salt, pepper
(Serves 4 as a main dish, 8 as a starter or side.)

Wash the broccoli and cut it into florets. Bring some salted water to a boil in a large saucepan, add in the broccoli and let simmer for 8 minutes, until cooked but not limp. (This is my favored cooking method for broccoli, but you can steam it if you prefer.) Drain and run cold water on it to stop the cooking. Set aside in a colander to drain thoroughly while you take the next steps.
Preheat the oven to 180°F (360°F). Grease a 20 cm (8-inch) cake pan, unless it's nonstick.
In a medium mixing-bowl, whisk together the cottage cheese, yogurt, eggs and oil, and sprinkle on salt and pepper. In another medium mixing-bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour and baking powder. Fold the liquid mixture into the dry mixture until just combined (the batter will be thick). Do not overmix, it's fine if it's still a little lumpy.
Arrange the cooked broccoli at the bottom of the cake pan. Season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle on the walnuts and raisins. Pour the batter evenly over the broccoli, and smooth it out a bit with a spatula.
Put into the oven to bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the top is
golden and crispy. Let rest on the counter for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the pan to loosen the cornmeal crust, cover the pan with a serving plate, and flip quickly (protect your hands with a kitchen towel of course) so the cake lands, broccoli-side up, on the plate.
Cut in wedges, preferably with caution and a sharp knife, so as not to smoosh the broccoli. Serve warm, at room-temperature or cold. Reheat leftovers for ten minutes in the oven if you wish to revive the crispiness of the crust.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2005

My favourite soft drink

Almdudler - herbal lemonade from Austria

Well, my favourite soft drink outside Australia, that is. My favourite Aussie soft drink is the superb Bundaberg Ginger Beer, cloudy with fresh ginger residue and a real back-of-the throat ginger heat and a million times better than the usual dross they sell here. The bottles really look like beer bottles, so it can sometimes cause confusion - I remember a friend feeling very queasy one morning (ginger is good for nausea) and drinking a bottle while walking to work, to the shocked stares of passers by!
But, I'm supposed to be writing about Almdudler!

I've always had the name Almdudler in my conscious; I don't know why. Perhaps I heard about it when young and liked the sound of the word. But last year when I found my vocal group would be touring Austria I cried "Yay! We can drink Almdudler!!!". Everyone stared at me with some concern (yes, she has finally gone crazy!). All the way through the tour I kept pointing out to people that it was only X number of days until we could sit back with a nice cold Almdudler...these reviews all based on my extensive knowledge, having never actually tasted an Almdudler before. I knew I'd really suffer the consequences if it turned out to be disgusting.
But it didn't - quite the opposite. We tried it, loved it, and think fondly of it whenever faced with the uninspired collection of Australian softdrinks (afore-mentioned Ginger Beer, and the uniquely Aussie Passiona passionfruit soda aside!).

It says on the can that it is a 'herbal lemonade', which made me giggle, thinking of what most people associate with the words 'herbal'. There really isn't any more information on the cans, but I do know there are two types - a lemonade, and a soda (?) water version in a yellow can. I much prefer the lemonade version; despite being the sweeter option, it is about 10 times less sweet than standard Australian soft-drinks, which would make it about 50 times less sweet than the sickly American sodas I've had in the US!

I really can't explain the flavour, apart from it being 'herbal'. It's refreshing, nicely sweet and just tastes so damn European! I love it ! I'd really like to know more about this drink - how long it's been around in Austria, whether the herbs used are commonly known, and whether it's available all around Europe (we only noticed it in Austria). Does anybody know? (Johanna?)

Just to explain, in case anyone thought I was obsessed enough with this drink to carry back an empty can in my suitcase from Europe to Australia (the answer is...almost!), we've just discovered that we can buy cans of Almdudler at the German smallgoods & bratwurst stand at the Queen Victoria Market here in Melbourne! This was the cause of some major rejoicing here - I'm surprised you couldn't hear it from wherever you're reading. We had been sorely missing the streetside Wurst vendors all around Europe - big, juicy sausages piled with tangy sauerkraut on crusty bread rolls. On our limited budget they provided hot, tasty nourishment for us and left us more time for sightseeing by not having to sit down and wait for an order to arrive! How I wish we had such roadside stands here!! It's now a Friday lunchtime tradition for A. to walk over for a big weisswurst mit Sauerkraut und senf and an Almdudler. Lucky bloke, working so close.
A turned up one evening recently with a grin saying "I've got a present for you" and presented me with the Red Can Of Goodness...to my squeals of delight. This is that very can; don't you just love the outfits on the couple?! Those hats! There's no doubting this is a traditional European specialty. Strangely, the taste of this Almdudler wasn't quite what I remembered and I think they may have suffered for their long journey over the sea to Australia. Either that, or the Austrians are selling inferior quality Almdudler to those unenlightened hicks in the Antipodes! It hasn't stopped us continuing to buy it, but I impore you Almdudler personnel in Australia - please send us your good stuff!

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Fried Green Tomatoes

My grandmother (the Australian one) spends six months of the year up north in Queensland; on the Sunshine Coast, with the rest of the senior citizens expat community from Melbourne. It's our version of Florida up there! The rest of the time, when it is too humid and sticky, she comes back down here and reclaims her Victorian identity (i.e. the all-black wardrobe and eating dinner inside the house).
When she's in Victoria she lives about an hour outside Melbourne in a valley at the start of the Australian Alps. It's a gorgeous area, poetically called Flowerdale, and I have such fond memories of spending school holidays there as a child; riding my bike along dirt roads to the goat farm next door; having sausage-sizzle picnics on the sandy beach next to the cold, alpine creek; curling up on the sheepskin rug in front of the open fire in winter; sneaking reads of her Jackie Collins adults novels which she hid from the grandkiddes in the workshed; standing in awe at her bulgingly stocked walk-in pantry; and having my first baking lessons - together we'd create all kinds of biscuits, slices and cakes to present to my brother and assorted visitors for dinner. I'm sure it wasn't every night, but it felt like I was always asking to bake something. I remember her often saying "yes, you can - but you'll have to eat anything you create afterwards!"

A few days ago she packed up the house again, for her six-month sojourn as a Queenslander (they speak slower up there you know ;-). Probably all the sun), and she gathered up the contents of her vegetable garden for me. She turned up on my birthday with a bag full of green capsicums, a glossy purple eggplant, wincingly sour little apples which fit in the palm of my hand, and lots and lots of green tomatoes still on their vines, which didn't have a chance to ripen before she left.
I wasn't sure what to with these tomatoes. I've heard that green tomato relish is supposed to be good, but I'm not really in a preserving mood - with all the equipment and faffing about that requires - and anyway, I really don't like relishes and chutneys. But, what I've also heard about are fried green tomatoes. How could I not when there's a Hollywood film of the same name?! I've always been intrigued how something made of unripe vegetables could taste any good at all, so I tried it today at lunch.
I did a Google search and looked at a few recipes before deciding on the one below. I decided to use my Japanese panko breadcrumbs rather than the normal fine, dry cardboardy ones because.....well....I bought these panko things a while ago and keep forgetting to use them! I wanted to see why everyone is raving about panko, so I'd combine these two tasks. I'm lucky in that we have an inbuilt Gaggenau deep fryer in the kitchen, so choosing to make deep-fried tidbits on the spur of the moment isn't the big military-style endeavour it is for many other people - that's not to say we use it every day! Deep-fried food is still an occasional indulgence.

These turned out really, really tasty. The spoonful of brown sugar mixed with the flour added the sweetness the green tomatos hadn't yet had the chance to develop with ripeness. I added some grated parmesan to the panko crumbs to add a bigger flavour, which was a good idea. The slices cooked quickly and tasted wonderful; they were crispy, golden, crunchy and had a great sweet/savoury flavour. Sprinkled with some Maldon salt flakes they were yummy, yummy, yummy! The only problem is that this used up only a third of my green tomatoes. Any ideas of what I can do with the rest??
Read on for the recipe:

Favourite Fried Green Tomatoes
Note - the method here is for shallow frying in a pan. I decided it would be less hassle, and quicker to use our deep-fryer.

4 to 6 green tomatoes

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup seasoned, dry bread crumbs
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon Vegetable oil

Slice tomatoes 1/2-inch thick. Combine flour and sugar on a shallow plate. Dip both sides of each tomato slice in the mixture. Combine egg and milk. Dip each tomato slice in this mixture, then in bread crumbs. Heat butter and oil on medium-high heat in skillet. Fry tomatoes until brown on both sides, but firm enough to hold their shape.

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Sunday, April 03, 2005

Burnt-Butter Brown-Sugar Cupcakes

I made these to take to an Easter Monday recital of lieder A. was giving in preparation for this weekend's Liederfest competitions; just a bunch of friends who are not afraid of giving him feedback and constructive criticism, and then enjoying some sugary cakey delights.
I've wanted to try this recipe for a while, especially as, not only do I currently have golden caster sugar in stock (it's brown caster sugar used in lots of Nigella recipes), but I also have a box of unrefined golden icing sugar! Nigella calls for this in several recipes in Domestic Goddess, but I've noticed it never appears in the American versions of the recipes, as it musn't be available there. Let me assure you, that those recipes suffer for it! Unrefined icing sugar is one of the most spectacular foodie finds I've made in the past year. The recipe for her Winter Plum Cake would not be even close to the splendour it is without this icing sugar. It's a pale brown powder that smells strongly like caramel and gives the icing a completely different flavour - gorgeously fudgey, a hint of bitterness and an aftertaste of toffee. It's not nearly as sweet and harsh as the white powdered stuff, and has a much fuller flavour. It's usually just mixed with a few spoons of water....who knew that water and sugar could taste so spectacular! I really think it is essential to bring the Plum Cake and these burnt butter cupcakes to a level that raises them to something more special.
I buy the golden unrefined icing sugar made by the UK company, Billington's. If you find it anywhere, grab it immediately!!

Anyway, I've been wanting to make this recipe for a while, and when I saw the Amateur Gourmet's post about it, that was the last straw. I had to do it now, and I had to do it the right/original way, with 2 types of golden unrefined sugars! Incidentally, I had the same problem he did with the butter not solidifying, and I ended up bunging mine in the freezer for a few minutes, which seemed to work well. In fact this recipe seems to be idiot-proof, as I chose to halve the recipe, but as I was going along, forgot to halve some of the ingredients like...erm....milk and.....ahem......baking powder. I just had really tall, fluffy cupcakes!
I found the recipe made one huge bowl of icing (and yes, I remembered to halve everything there!) which made a topping of icing as tall as the cakes were themselves! The icing itself was tooth-achingly sweet and rich on its own, but the perfect complement to the cakes, which were smoky and nutty flavoured. Decorated with some sliced pistachios and shredded coconut, these looked really pretty!

Read on for the recipe:

Burnt-Butter Brown Sugar Cupcakes
Nigella Lawson - How to be a Domestic Goddess

12 bun muffin tray lined with muffin papers

for the cupcakes:
150g butter
125g self-raising flour
60g golden caster sugar
65g light brown sugar (or muscovado)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 tablespoons milk
for the icing:
150g butter
250-300g golden icing sugar, sieved
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 200c and start burning the butter. Put butter in a small saucepan on medium heat, stirring all the time until it turns a dark golden colour. Take the pan off the heat and strain the butter into a bowl or cup, as it will have made a sediment. In other words, this is like clarified butter, but with a smoky note. Let the butter solidify again, so it remains soft for the cupcakes.
When the butter is solid, but still soft, put all the cake ingredients except the milk in a food processor and blitz to a smooth batter. As normal, add the milk down the funnel, pulsing sparingly to form a soft, dropping mixture.
Divide between the paper cases, and cook for 15-20 minutes. While the cupcakes are baking, get on with the icing. It's the same procedure for the butter - burn, sieve, solidify - then beat it with half the sieved sugar or enough to make it stiff. Add tablespoons of the milk and the remaining sugar alternately to reach a good consistency, and finally the vanilla.
While the icing's still soft, smear messily over the cooled and waiting cupcakes.

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