December 21, 2007

3 days to go...

Hmmm - only 3 more days 'till the big day and despite poring over Christmas recipes for weeks I still haven't decided exactly what to cook. And a visit to the market today has made me a bit panicky as judging by the loads of fresh food people were buying I'm the only one who hasn't.

Since there's no way I'm carving a whole turkey, I've pretty much settled on stuffed turkey breast, but with 16 people coming we'll need some other kind of meat as well. So will I do Terry Durack's rolled turkey breast with chestnut stuffing from last week's Good Weekend, and delicious mag's pancetta, sage and onion rolled loin of pork? Or would we prefer Donna Hay's roast lemon thyme turkey breasts that I've done before? Then again Bill Granger's stuffed turkey breast looked great when I saw him doing a Christmas lunch on the cooking channel the other night. I could do that, and maybe break with tradition and have Donna's coriander, rosemary and garlic lamb? And do we have them hot or cold? It's going to be 25 degrees so either would be ok. One hot and one cold?? Such big decisions. And that's just the meat.

I find other people's Christmas food choices fascinating. Here are some of my Christmas food questions:

1. What's with ham? Who says ham is such a treat we should buy one at Christmas? It doesn't even keep. My late dad loved to buy the Christmas ham. He always bought a great big one, and no matter how you cosseted it and wrapped it daily in a fresh damp teatowel, after a few days it always went a bit slimy and we had to throw it away. Every year. But he always bought one.

2. How come people plan a big hot Christmas dinner before they've heard the weather forecast? What if it's 40 degrees? Or are we the only ones without airconditioning?

3. Why do old people ring up talkback radio with recipes for "economical xmas cake/pudding"? I hear them every year. There's no post-war rationing any more. It's time they looked for a new recipe.

4. Apparently Americans have never heard of plum pudding. I wonder what they have instead?

Whatever you choose to eat at Christmas, I hope it's a good one.

December 19, 2007

christmas cake

Today was the day for my favourite Christmas baking task...the cake. And this is my favourite fruitcake recipe. I cut it out of a Better Homes and Gardens mag years ago. It was called Nut-glazed Quick Christmas Cake, and I used to make it in two loaf tins - one for us and one for my late father-in-law who loved fruitcake. It reappeared in delicious a couple of years ago on Belinda Jeffery's page and I thought it strange that it was exactly the same recipe that I used. Until I remem-bered Belinda used to be on BH&G on tv. And now it's in her gorgeous new cookbook "mix & bake".

I'm not that fond of fruitcakes made by the creaming method - they always seem a bit dry. This one is more like a boiled fruit cake and it's terrifically dense and moist. Fruitcake lovers who taste it always want the recipe :

Belinda Jeffery's Last Minute Christmas Cake

300g unsalted butter

420g raw sugar

380g raisins

180g pitted prunes

160g sultanas

90g currants

90g pitted dates

2 tspns bicarb soda

1/2 cup brandy or dark rum

1 1/2 cups cold water

2 tspns ground nutmeg

2 tspns cinnamon

4 eggs, lightly beaten

2 1/2 cups stone-ground wholemeal plain flour

To decorate:

raw pecans/whole blanched almonds

or, purchased soft icing plus a mixture of silver and coloured cachous

Melt butter over medium heat in a saucepan large enough to hold all the ingredients. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Add all the fruit, bicarb, brandy and water. Increase heat and keep stirring until sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 4 mins. (Watch that it doesn't froth up and over sides of pot because of the bicarb.) Leave to cool to room temperature in pan.

Preheat oven to 150 C. Butter a 23cm springform tin and line base and sides with 2 layers of buttered baking paper. Add nutmeg, cinnamon and eggs to cold mixture. Stir in the flour, then leave to sit for a few minutes. Spoon mixture into tin, and decorate the top with the whole nuts if using. Bake for 2 1/4 - 2 1/2 hours or until a skewer comes out clean. If after an hour's cooking cake is getting too brown, cover top loosely with foil to stop it getting darker. Leave to cool completely in tin on a rack. Remove from tin when cold and remove baking paper. Wrap in plastic wrap then foil and store in the fridge, where it will keep for about 6 weeks. For a nice shiny finish, cake with nut topping can be brushed with a little warmed apricot jam before serving.

This amount of mixture will also make a 19cm square cake, lined with 2 layers of paper and baked at 150 C for approx. 2 1/4 hours, or 4 small square10cm cakes. Line the small tins with 1 layer of baking paper and bake in 150 C oven for approx. 1 1/2 hrs. Placed on a square of cardboard and wrapped in cellophane, they make lovely gifts. This year I've made two batches of the small ones (that's last year's big cake in the top pic) and will give all but one of them away.

To decorate large and small cakes with icing and cachous:

Turn cake(s) upside down to decorate. Combine 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water in small saucepan over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Bring to boil and simmer uncovered for 1 minute. Leave syrup to cool. Roll out purchased white fondant (500g is enough for 1 large cake or 4 small ones). Brush cake(s) with sugar syrup and cover with a square of fondant. Place a Christmassy biscuit cutter on top of cake as a guide. Brush inside the cutter with syrup. Sprinkle silver and coloured cachous inside the cutter. Lift off carefully. Leave to dry completely before wrapping.

December 18, 2007

christmas baking

I love summer. Anything up to about 35 degrees feels like heaven to me. But round about now when I my annual urge to bake Christmassy stuff takes over, I can't help feeling a bit envious of all the northern hemisphere foodie bloggers. They describe the glorious feeling of retreating into a warm cosy kitchen when it's cold and dark (and even snowing) outside and just baking to their hearts content. While I have to pick my (cooler) days so that the oven blasting away doesn't make the house even hotter.

Luckily the last few days have been mildish, so the mince pies are finished and given away or frozen. I never leave any just sitting around or I'd eat the whole lot. I took a plateful to our work Xmas lunch today - all extra contributions being gratefully received as we have only $110 to spend on food for 15.

December 17, 2007

Menu for Hope 4

As a committed food blog reader I keep reading about "Menu for Hope" - chez pim's fundraiser for people who can't afford to put food on the table. This is a worldwide, blog-based annual event which is quite simply brilliant. It's an online raffle, now in its 4th year, with a wealth of food related prizes for a mere (US)$10 a ticket. Last year food bloggers and their readers raised an amazing $US62,925.12 in support of the United Nations World Food program.

Grab Your Fork has gathered and collated a list of prizes in the Asia Pacific region. To see the entire line up of prizes and donate to the cause go to Chez Pim's Menu for Hope 4

December 10, 2007

pistachio cupcakes

A friend of Georgie's went to Shannon Bennett's Cafe Vue soon after it opened in Little Collins St. and bought what she described as the best cupcake ever. Oh boy, we couldn't get in there fast enough to try them out, and she was pretty much right - they were fantastic. Shortly afterwards Nick gave us a voucher for dinner at wonderful Vue de Monde for Christmas. At the end of the evening we were chatting with our charming waiter (really he was more attentive host than waiter), and Cafe Vue came up in the conversation. I mentioned the cupcakes, which he said he too loved, and he offered to email me the recipe. He obviously forgot, because I never got it, but a similar one appeared shortly afterwards in the Financial review magazine. I didn't get around to making them because the recipe used pistachio paste, which I could only find in big expensive catering-size jars. THEN, delicious magazine had a full page article about Shannon Bennett, Cafe Vue and their pistachio cupcakes...and it included the "real" recipe. Thrilling! I made a batch straight away, tweaking the recipe a little and using ground almonds instead of marzipan. From what I could remember of the original cupcakes the results were pretty good.

We went back to Vue de Monde with friends from Adelaide in August, and I reminded our (same) charming waiter about the cupcake recipe. Apologising profusely for not sending it, he disappeared for a minute and returned with a zip-lock bag of pistachio paste to make up for his forgetfulness - how sweet! So I made them again, this time with the paste, but still with ground almonds. Then a few days ago, I finally found some good quality marzipan which the recipe specifies, so I made them a third time, this time with all the correct ingredients. They've been delicious each time, but with a slightly stronger almond flavour when I used the marzipan.

Pistachio Cupcakes

All ingredients should be at room temperature:

100 g shelled unsalted pistachio nuts plus an extra 30 g

100g unsalted butter

85g caster sugar

1 of either : 75g good quality marzipan (minm. 50% nuts)

OR 75g almond meal

OR 55g marzipan plus 20g pistachio paste

2 eggs

2 drops vanilla extract

30g semolina (I use plain flour)

1 Tab Kirsch (I use milk)

glace icing

extra pistachio nuts for decoration

Preheat oven to 170 C. Blitz 100g pistachios in food processor for a couple of minutes until finely ground. Roughly chop the other 30g. In electric mixer beat butter, sugar and vanilla (and pistachio paste and chopped marzipan if using) until light and fluffy and all lumps are removed. Add eggs singly, then stir in ground and chopped pistachio nuts, flour and milk, and almond meal if using. Dollop into paper-lined muffin tin and bake 20 - 25 mins. Cool in tin a couple of minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely. Ice with glace icing (Shannon makes his green, I prefer pale pink) and top with a pistachio nut. Makes 10 - 12.

December 1, 2007

happy engagement

We're very much looking forward to tomorrow as we've been invited to our new future in-laws for lunch. Apparently it's an Italian custom for the bride's parents to have the parents of the groom over for a meal to celebrate the engagement. We've already met Vittoria's parents a couple of times but this will be the first time we've sampled Carmela's cooking, which Nick tells us is wonderful. I thought I could contribute to the day by taking some special cupcakes - what else?

I wanted the cupcakes to look a bit "dressier" than my usual roughly iced ones, so I used shop-bought soft icing which I rolled out and imprinted with a lace pattern. The downside to using this product is that it doesn't taste as nice as homemade glace icing. So I needed a recipe for a cake that would taste good on its own in case the icing turned out to be inedible. I used this one which I've made succesfully a few times in the past. It's based on Sweet Violet Cakes from The Australian Women's Weekly cupcakes :

All ingredients should be at room temperature.

90g cream cheese
90g butter
2tspns finely grated lemon rind
2/3 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup SR flour
1/2 cup plain flour

Preheat oven to 180C. Cream
butter, cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs singly, beating well after each addition. Fold in sifted dry ingredients. Dollop evenly into paper-lined muffin tins and bake 22-25 mins or till skewer comes out clean. Cool 5 mins in tins before removing to cool on a rack. Makes 12.

I got the idea for the icing from a picture in the same book of some pretty lacy wedding cupcakes. To make the patterned icing the recipe says to use a filigree textured plate. So this week I went to 3 cake-baking equipment shops, but none of them had heard of such a thing. So I cut the lace border off an old doily and pressed that into the icing to make a pattern.

Yesterday the postman brought my new Wilton Cake Caddy, so the cupcakes should travel safely.

November 26, 2007

Flourless chocolate cupcakes

I'm having afternoon tea today with a friend at her work for her birthday. Haven't had time to bake over the weekend so have defrosted these cupcakes that've been in the freezer for a few weeks.

Recipes for flourless chocolate cakes are everywhere. Their authors sometimes give credit to, amongst others, Claudia Roden or Elizabeth David, but it was probably originally a cake for Passover, the Jewish festival where no unleavened food may be eaten. I've made this cake a hundred times since I was given a copy of Dolly Campbell's I Hate to Cook in 1991. Dolly Campbell was the pseudonym used by Jill Dupleix in her cookery column in the Melbourne Age. The recipe was called "I Hate to Cook Best Ever Chocolate Cake". and I agreed with her that it was the best ever. It has popped up frequently in Jill's books and columns over the years. In one she suggested that you should use whichever chocolate is appropriate to the occasion...the finest couverture chocolate for best, and supermarket chocolate for not-so-special occasions. I had, up until then, always used either Cadbury or Plaistowe cooking chocolate or dark eating chocolate. So I tried making it with 70% Lindt chocolate - with disastrous results. The melted chocolate hardened into an unworkable lump once the nuts and egg yolks were mixed in. I've not been game to use anything higher than 45% cocoa solids since, but it may be worth giving it a go using something in between the two. The flavour will be delicious even with the cheap stuff!

I now usually bake the cake in individual serves rather than as a large cake. Despite being a bit ugly and funny-looking (the cracking is inevitable) they're deliciously rich, yet light, and need nothing more than a dust of icing sugar or cocoa on the tops.

Flourless Chocolate Cake(s)

250g dark chocolate
150g unsalted butter
1 Tab strong black coffee
1 Tab brandy (opt.)
150g caster sugar
125 ground almonds/almond meal*
5 eggs, separated

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Place chocolate, butter, sugar, coffee and brandy in a heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until butter and chocolate are completely melted and mixture is smooth. Stir in the ground almonds, then the lightly beaten egg-yolks. Whip egg whites until stiff but not dry. Stir a big spoonful into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then fold in the rest with a large metal spoon or a whisk. Spoon into paper-lined muffin tins or a 23cm greased and paper-lined springform tin. Bake for about 30 mins. for the small cakes, or 45-50 mins. for the large cake, or until firm to the touch but still a little soft in the centre. Cool the small cakes for 5 mins. in the moulds before removing. Cool large cake completely before inverting onto serving plate. Sprinkle with icing sugar or cocoa.

Makes about 15 cupcakes or 1 large cake.

*You can use hazelnuts instead of almonds for a slightly different flavour. Finely ground is best, but coarsely ground works well too and will give a crunchier texture.

*They'll keep for 2-3 days in the fridge (bring to room-temp. before eating), but if you want to freeze them, open freeze first, then wrap in cling-film then foil.

November 25, 2007

pasta sunday

Georgie came over and made this for dinner tonight. There are only a few ingredients so it can be rustled up in no time. It was delicious...not surprising as she's a great cook.

Asparagus and Rocket Spaghettini

80ml extra virgin olive oil
8 asparagus spears cut into 5cm lengths
400g spaghettini
120g rocket (shredded)
2 long red chillies, chopped finely
2 tspns grated lemon rind
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 cup grated Parmesan
2 tabs lemon juice
salt + ground black pepper to taste

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Blanch asparagus for 4 mins. Remove with a slotted spoon, refresh under cold water, drain and place in a bowl. Return water to the boil and add spaghettini. Cook pasta until al dente. Drain and return to the pan.

Meanwhile add the rocket, chilli, lemon rind, garlic and 2/3 cup of the Parmesan to the asparagus and mix well. Add to the pasta, pour on the lemon juice and olive oil and season with salt and ground black pepper. Stir well to evenly coat the pasta with the mixture. Serve and top with remaining Parmesan.

Serves 4

November 21, 2007


Today I've made cupcakes for tomorrow's "farewell Moira" arvo tea. I've used the recipe I always use when making cupcakes for a crowd. It's a re-jigged cake recipe cut from a mag a few years ago. I'm such a fan of this recipe as it's foolproof, it makes a lot (around 22) and they always turn out flat-topped which is best if you're using glace icing rather than buttercream.

Passionfruit Buttermilk Cupcakes

All ingredients should be at room temperature:

185g butter, softened
1 1/4 cups caster sugar
1/2 cup icing sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups SR flour
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 cup passionfruit pulp (about 6)
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tspns finely grated lemon rind

Preheat oven to 165 degrees. Cream butter and sugars until pale and fluffy. Add eggs singly, beating well after each addition. Add rind, then sifted flours in 3 batches and liquids in 2 - so flour, liquid, flour, liquid, flour. Dollop mixture into paper lined cupcake tins (I use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to do this so they're all a similar size) and bake for 25 mins. or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in tins for 5 mins to stop cakes shrinking away from papers. Remove and cool completely on a rack before icing.

Note: I couldn't find any cheap passionfruit anywhere, so I blitzed a peeled orange with the stick blender and used the resulting pulp instead. I think the result was as good if not better than with passionfruit, and was much cheaper than buying 6 @ $1.49 each.

November 20, 2007

salad days

It's been too hot to cook so the last couple of nights we've had a salad for dinner. Last night it was a variation on a Karen Martini recipe from a recent Sunday Life mag. It was very fast and easy to prepare, and like everything I've made from Karen's book Where the heart is it was very good.

Chicken, Couscous and Spinach Salad

50g couscous
50 ml chicken stock or water
1/2 tspn mixed spice
1 Tab extra virgin olive oil
4 Tabs plain yoghurt
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1/2 Tab red wine vinegar
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper
handful shredded basil leaves
2 Tabs pinenuts, toasted
1/2 bought cooked chicken, shredded
few large handfuls coarsely shredded baby spinach
few baby cos leaves

Add boiling water or stock to couscous and stand 2 mins. Separate grains with fork. Whisk together spice, oil, yoghurt, onion, vinegar, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Toss together with chicken, leaves and couscous. Scatter with pinenuts. Serves 2.

Tonight I made a Thai beef salad based on a Jamie Oliver recipe. This is very flexible - you can add or subtract ingredients and/or vary the amounts according to your taste.

Thai Beef Salad

Mixture of shredded salad greens (I used Chinese cabbage and baby spinach)

1 carrot, julienned or coarsely shredded

large handful bean sprouts

1/2 cup coriander leaves

1/4 cup shredded basil leaves

2 spring onions chopped

1/4 cup unsalted peanuts, lightly crushed

2 small medallions eye fillet


1 Tab lime juice (or lemon)

1 Tab fish sauce

2 tspns olive oil

1 tspn sesame oil

1/2 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 red chilli, seeded and finely chopped

2 tspns brown sugar

Char-grill or pan-fry meat to your preferred degree of 'doneness' and rest for 10 mins. Slice thinly. Whisk the dressing ingredients until sugar is dissolved. Toss lightly with remaining ingredients, divide between two plates and scatter beef on top. Garnish with a few extra coriander leaves. Serves 2.

November 19, 2007

pink ribbon day

Today at work, staff are having an afternoon tea to raise money for breast cancer. I planned to make appropriately shaped cupcakes. But since most of my recipes result in cakes that are flat topped rather than "hilly", I've made meringues instead. The raw mixture was a deep flesh pink, but sadly it faded with cooking to a dull beige. I didn't know whether the sweets for the tops would melt in the oven, so I tried one and it did. The rest I've poked in after baking so they're a bit cracked. Oh well, hopefully they look authentic enough to give the girls a laugh...

November 17, 2007

grandmother's flower garden quilt

I fell in love with a similar quilt of Trish Harper's when I took one of her classes ages ago at Amitie. She kindly gave me a copy of the hexagon template, and I spent hours contentedly cutting out and mixing and matching the florals. I confess that though I loved it when I started it I'm now not so fond of it. It's been spread out on the spare-room bed to remind me to finish it, but all it does is inspire feelings of guilt. The planning and buying the fabric is by far my favourite part of doing patchwork, so I'd really love to start something new with all this free time on my hands. But my conscience tells me to be disciplined and finish this first. I've only got a couple of outside rows of flowers to attach so it shouldn't take long.

I can't remember how Trish quilted hers...probably by hand. I've hand pieced the whole thing so it seems a shame not to hand quilt it. But it's a daunting prospect when I want to get on with something else.

November 15, 2007

i say clivia, you say clive-ia

We're looking forward to a more manageable garden when we move to a new place, wherever that may be. We love our big garden and getting out in it, but neither of us particularly likes gardening. It's looking pretty good at the moment, despite the drought. The Clivias which line the driveway have put on their best show ever, and their glowing orangeness has attracted several comments from passers-by as it does every spring.

Every year when I pick the first bunch I can't help thinking that the stalks would look more attractive if they were dark green instead of looking exactly like a bunch of celery. But I suppose Nature knows best.

long service leave

Today is the 8th day of my leave. Hmmmm - into the second week already. I was hoping to make good use of my 9 weeks off by doing a few things around the house, like getting the timber floors repolished, in readiness to sell. We were hoping that the ruin that is next door would be pulled down soon, since settlement took place a month ago. And then we could put our house on the market. But 2 days ago, another For Sale sign has gone up, so we are back to square one.