Sunday, December 17, 2017

Fig, Apricot and Pistachio Fruit Cakes

My second Christmas box treat this year was Fig, Apricot and Pistachio Fruit Cakes.  The recipe for these individual fruit cakes came from page 98 of the November 2017 Coles magazine.

The recipe made 4 mini loaves.  Instead, I made 18 cupcake sized cakes.

The recipe was not originally gluten-free, but I made it so by substituting the flour with a commercial gluten-free flour mix.

I really loved this recipe.  With 18 cakes, there was one spare for me to try.  It was so lovely - unlike a traditional fruit cake, it was not at all heavy, and was satisfyingly fruity and nutty.  The marmalade glaze also added a beautiful shine and colour, and a contrasting tart flavour.  

Convinced to make these?  The recipe is as follows:

160g mixed dried fruit (I just used commercial fruit cake mix)
190g dried figs, coarsely chopped
150g dried apricots, coarsely chopped
105g pistachios, chopped
60ml Cointreau
85g orange marmalade
250g butter
220g sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated orange rind (I omitted this)
 4 eggs
150g plain flour
150 self-raising flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
extra orange marmalade to glaze the cakes

Put all of the dried fruit, pistachios, marmalade and Cointreau in a large non-metal bowl, and stir to combine.  Allow to soak for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and line muffin trays with papers (I ended up with 18).

Cream the butter, sugar and orange rind in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition.

Add the flours, cinnamon and fruit to the bowl and fold in with a rubber spatula.

Divide the cake batter evenly between the muffin cases using an icecream scoop.  Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until cooked through and golden on top.

Microwave about a quarter of a cup of marmalade for 20 seconds or so to loosen.  Brush the tops of the hot cakes with the marmalade to glaze.  Cool completely in the pans.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Roasted Honey Mustard Vegetables - Red Tractor December

Wow, we have reached the end of the year, and it's time for the Red Tractor calendar December recipe.  Fittingly for those having a traditional Christmas lunch or dinner, the recipe is Roasted Honey Mustard Vegetables.

There is no quote this month - just lots of summertime Australiana:

These vegetables are mainly root vegetables, roasted until soft and then drizzled with a honey mustard dressing.  I am not much of a parsnip fan, as I find them woody and bland, but the rest of the veges were good.

I won't give you the exact vegetable blend suggested - you can roast what you like.  The honey mustard dressing recipe is as follows:

125g butter
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons wholegrain mustard
2 tablespoons soy sauce
freshly grated ginger to taste

Mix everything together, pour over the roasted vegetables, and bake for a further 10 minutes.


Friday, December 15, 2017

Cinnamon-almond meringue stars

Christmas is not far away now.  A lot of people in my workplace finish up today to commence their Christmas holidays, and for those of us who are still working, things seem jollier and lighter.

Long-time readers will know that every year, I make Christmas treat boxes for colleagues and friends, stealing the idea from some American bloggers that I read back in the early days of my blog (can you believe it, 10 years ago!).  Half the fun is deciding what to put in the treat boxes from the myriad choices that I could make.  

This year I did not spend a lazy afternoon planning what to put in the treat boxes, as life has seemed very fast this year.  I just randomly noted recipes of interest in my head as I saw them, and when the time came to actually make the treats, I seized on the top few recipes plus a Dorie Greenspan recipe that  I had to make for Tuesdays with Dorie, and lo, I had my treat boxes.  I belatedly added in a savoury item, as I had selected all sweets with no savoury, and I know that most people like a little of both. 

The other interesting thing this year is that a few items that have been staples  in the past did not appear in the treat boxes.  There was no traditional style Christmas cake, no plum pudding, no rum balls and no apricot balls.  There has been a lot of change in my life in the last 18 months, not all of it by choice, so I feel that in an unconscious way, my treat box choices reflected that.

On my mother's side of the family, I am of staunchly German heritage, with both sets of great grandparents being German immigrants to Australia in the late 1800s.  I can't imagine how they might have felt, taking a very long journey on a ship half way across the world, to a place sight unseen with a climate dramatically different to what they were used to.  Today, travel is faster and safer, and there is a wealth of information about other countries, so we have so many advantages over my ancestors.

Despite only possessing some rudimentary German vocabulary learnt in Grade 8 German and having only visited Germany once on an Insights tour, I enjoy exploring my German heritage through baking.    When Luisa Weiss published some recipes for German Christmas cookies in The Guardian, they went "straight to the pool room" of recipes for my treat boxes. The beauty of the majority of these recipes is that they are gluten free - I had three gluten-free people to make for this year, so as a result, everyone received gluten free goodies.

First up, I made Luisa's recipe for cinnamon-almond meringue stars.  I foolishly did not study the recipe in advance, and airily believed that the snowy white tops on these cookies were white icing.  After all, the recipe contained icing sugar, didn't it?  Nope, wrong.  The snowy white top of these cookies is meringue that is painstakingly coaxed over the top of the star-shaped cookies to cover them in a pristine white blanket.  

Other things to note abut making these cookies is that the dough is very, very sticky and unco-operative, so do take Luisa's tip about dipping the cutter in water to stop it from sticking - and keep the dough cold!  Also note that once the cookies are formed, you need 12-24 hours to dry them before baking - they only bake for 3-4 minutes.  I only dried mine for about half that time and they turned out fine (I am in Australia in summer where things dry quicker than in wintery Europe), but regardless, you will need a few hours of drying time.

However, these cookies are worth the effort - so good!  Chewy, nutty, not overly sweet and very pretty.  If you want to take the plunge and make these cookies, you will need:

3 egg whites
pinch of salt
200g icing sugar
300g almond meal 
2 tsp cinnamon

Whisk the egg whites and salt together in the bowl of a stand mixer, then slowly add the sugar, whisking until the mixture forms stiff peaks. Remove three heaped tablespoons of the meringue mixture from the bowl and set aside.

Using a rubber spatula, fold 225g of almond meal and the cinnamon into the large quantity of meringue. Add the rest of the almond meal until a firm but sticky dough forms. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for half an hour.

Roll the chilled dough out to 6mm thick between two sheets of cling film. Cut cookies from the dough with a 4cm star shaped cutter. Dip the cutter in cold water every so often to keep the dough from sticking (very important!). Put the cookies on baking trays lined with baking paper.

Spoon small blobs of the reserved meringue on top of each cookie, and spread it evenly over the top of the cookie with a wooden skewer. Allow the cookies to dry on the trays at room temperature for 12-24 hours or until the meringue is dry to the touch (but don't poke too hard or you'll crack the surface!).

Preheat your oven to 180C, and bake the cookies, one tray at a time on the bottom shelf, for 3-4 minutes or until the meringue is set but still white.

Remove the cookies from the oven and allow them to cool on the baking trays on a wire rack.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

TWD - Soft Salted-Butter Caramels

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe is Soft Salted-Butter Caramels.  These caramels were easy to make and delicious.  However, "soft" is not a word that I would use to describe my version of them.  They ended up being a firm caramel, kind of like the centre of a Fantale.  They were in fact so hard that when they fell on the floor (oh yes, I had fun cutting these), they shattered in half. 

Dorie said that she rolled her caramels into logs.  This was not a possibility with my caramels.  However, despite their firmness, they still had some degree of flexibility - enough that they bent if left over the edge of the cutting board for too long, and could be straightened out.

I was pleased with these caramels and would make them again if I felt inclined to make sweets.

To see what everyone else thought of their Dorie recipe this week, visit the LYL section of the TWD website.  

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Ottolenghi's winter spiced cheesecake with marmalade glaze

In The Guardian recently, I spied an interesting sounding recipe for Winter Spiced Cheesecake with Marmalade Glaze by Yotam Ottolenghi.  The cheesecake was interesting because it contains sweet potato; yep, you read it correctly, sweet potato.

Being a sucker for anything a little unusual, of course I tried it:

As you can see, these cheesecake is a glorious orange colour, and the base has a wonderful earthiness about it from the toasted almonds and sesame seeds.  Don't skip the marmalade glaze - the filling of the cheesecake is not overly sweet, so the glaze gives the cheesecake a delightful sweet hit.

To make this cheesecake, you will need:

550g sweet potatoes cut in half lengthways
60g hard amaretti biscuits (I used morning coffee biscuits)
60g Hobnob biscuits (I used Graham crackers)
60g roasted almonds, roughly chopped
10g toasted sesame seeds
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
70g melted butter
300g cream cheese (I used light cream cheese)
250g mascarpone
90g icing sugar
3 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp vanilla bean essence
140g fine-shred marmalade
3 tbsp maple syrup
Preheat your oven to 210 degrees Celsius. Line a round 23cm spring-form pan with baking paper.

Line  an oven tray with baking paper and put the sweet potatoes cut side down on it.  Roast the potatoes for 30-50 minutes until soft. Scoop out the potato flesh, discarding the skins, and process in a food processor until smooth.  Refrigerate until cold.

Put the biscuits in a food processor and blitz until fine crumbs form. Mix with the almonds, sesame seeds, spices and butter, then press into the base of the springform pan to form an even layer. Chill in the fridge.

In a stand mixer, beat the cooled sweet potato with the cream cheese, mascarpone, icing sugar, two tablespoons of lemon juice and a teaspoon of vanilla until smooth. Spread the filling evenly over the biscuit base, then refrigerate overnight or until set.

Bring the marmalade, maple syrup and the remaining lemon juice and vanilla to the boil in a small saucepan and stir for two minutes until the mixture thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Release the cheesecake from the pan, discard the paper, and pour the cooled marmalade mix evenly over the top of the cheesecake. Refrigerate again for 10 minutes, then serve.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

TWD - Princeton Gingersnaps

Last Thursday night, I went to see Culture Club at Rod Laver Arena.  I was too young to see them live when they were in their heyday, so it was a perfect opportunity to make up for lost time.  There were also two other 80s bands - Eurogliders (of Heaven Must Be There fame) and Thompson Twins' Tom Bailey.  I could not have named one Thompson Twins' song, but  when Tom Bailey sang Hold Me Now, I recognised it instantly.

Boy George's audience engagement was above average, with plenty of audience banter.  I love the fact that he used a number of very English phrases, like "tough bird", "a right old strop" and "go mental".  I know what these phrases mean, but they are not used that much in Australia.  It was fun to see the old Culture Club film clips playing in the background, reminding us all of just how much life we have lived since the early 80s.

Today's Tuesday with Dorie recipe (Dorie's Cookies) is Princeton Gingersnaps, which reminded me of another blast from the past, Arnotts Gingernut Cookies.  These cookies have a triple ginger hit - crystallised ginger, fresh ginger and ground ginger.  They are perfect to eat on their own or dunked in a cup of tea.   

I enjoyed the fact that these cookies were crispy on the outside and soft in the middle.  They baked up perfectly round from a ball, which impressed me no end.

To see what everyone else baked this week and what they thought of it, visit the LYL section of the Tuesdays with Dorie website.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Loreto Christmas Cake

It is December already, and Christmas is almost here.  I have had a busier than usual year, so I am not as organised as I can be for Christmas preparations.  I have changed jobs, signed a contract to buy an apartment after months of weekends dedicated to the search, participated in a tap dancing concert at The Palais (a big theatre in Melbourne) with everything that leads up to that (classes, dress rehearsals, making costumes etc), danced at Luna Park for Melbourne Tap Week before that, participated on a professional committee, given a professional seminar presentation, attended a number of concerts (most recently Culture Club last Thursday night, and Paul McCartney is coming up next week), and baked and blogged my heart out.

Here is a happy snap from backstage at the tap concert - fittingly our class were dressed as layer cakes for one number:

This year, I made a conscious decision not to make a Christmas cake or a Christmas pudding.  I have decided just to make cookies and sweets for a change, although today, I did make some peach jam using Maggie Beer's recipe again, this time with a teaspoon of cinnamon and a couple of shots of whiskey added.

However, a few years back, I made a Christmas cake from Loreto Cooks, given to me by my friends Steve and Craig.  Steve was recently made mayor of Stonnington, his local council area - congratulations Steve! 

I took a photo of the Loreto Christmas Cake, but never blogged about it, so I figure that given that I did not make a cake this year, it is a good time to share this cake from Christmas past.  You still have time to make a Christmas cake if you want to!

To make the Loreto Christmas Cake (recipe by Linda George at p180 of Loreto Cooks), you will need:

500g raisins
125g mixed peel
125g glace cherries
125g blanched almonds
500g sultanas
125g currants
125g dates
1 orange, juice and rind
4 tablespoons brandy
315g plain flour
250g butter
250g brown sugar
5 eggs
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons mixed spice
1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon

Cut the fruit into small pieces, and place into a large bowl with the nuts.  Add the orange juice, rind and brandy to the bowl and soak for a few days, stirring daily (overnight is probably enough!).

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees.  Line a 23cm square cake tin with one layer of baking paper and three layers of brown paper.

Mix half the flour with the fruit and nut mixture.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until light and creamy.  Beat in the eggs one by one, beating well between each addition.  

Sift the other half of the flour with the remaining dry  ingredients into a separate bowl.  Alternately fold the flour and fruit and nut mixture into the egg mixture until well combined.

Scoop the cake mixture into the prepared cake tin, then bake for three to three and a half hours, reducing the temperature of the oven if necessary during the cooking process.  If the top of the cake starts getting too brown before it is finished cooking, place a foil "tent" over the top of the cake to protect the cake from burning on top.

Remove the cake from the oven and allow it to cool in the tin on a wire rack.

Store the cake wrapped in fresh baking paper and aluminium foil in a cool dark place until Christmas.  You may optionally ice the cake with royal icing or marzipan and fondant, but it is good as is.  Slice into small pieces and serve.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Cheat's Chicken Paella

On page 56 of the October Coles Mag, there was a recipe for Cheat's Chicken Paella.  It looked and sounded so good, I could not resist.  It was so much easier than regular paella.

I was not disappointed by the results.  Although perhaps not the same as a traditional paella, it is close enough and tastes very good.

Interested in giving this a try?  If so, you will need:

4 chicken thigh fillets, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
400g can diced tomatoes
500g microwaveable brown rice
500g frozen stir fry vegetables

Combine the chicken and seasoning in a bowl and set aside.

Heat a non-stick frying pan and cook the chicken. 

Add the tomatoes to the pan and bring to a simmer. 

Stir in the rice and vegetables, and cook until both the rice and vegetables are heated through.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

TWD - Desert Roses

This week's Tuesday's with Dorie recipe is Desert Roses.  These are a melt and mix concoction comprised of cornflakes, dried fruits and nuts bound together with butter and chocolate.

There's not much to say about these.  They reminded me a little of fruit and nut chocolate with cornflakes for crispiness.  Dorie describes the Desert Roses as "candies", and that's pretty much what they are.

I made a quarter batch of desert roses - I had no idea what I'd do with 40 of them, and 340g of chocolate is a big investment in one recipe for a full batch.  They were delicious, but not so wonderful that I would hurry to make them again. 

To see what everyone else made this week and what they thought of it, visit the LYL section of the TWD website.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Becco Italian Restaurant, Melbourne

A few weeks ago, Tim took me out for a belated birthday dinner to Becco, a modern Italian restaurant hidden in a laneway off Bourke Street behind Pellegrinis.  

I had not heard of Becco until Tim booked this dinner, but it is I have since learned a well known and loved Melbourne restaurant.  On the night that we attended, a ringing endorsement of this restaurant arrived in the form of celebrity chef Guy Grossi and his family, who came to dine at Becco just before we left.  Guy of course owns his own Italian restaurant, so the fact that he attended another Italian restaurant for dinner is a stamp of approval indeed.

On arrival, we ordered champagne cocktails ($18):

For starter, we ordered one of the specials, stuffed zucchini flowers with raddichio salad: 

This starter was light and delicious.

For main, Tim ordered the Tagliata- Rare Grilled Porterhouse (200gm) Salsa Verde, Roasted Onion and Capers ($41):

I wanted to be adventurous and try something that I have never had before, and which is undoubtedly Italian - Veal Saltimbocca with Prosciutto, Parmesan, Sage and White Wine Reduction ($39):

This dish was really moist and tasty, and I was glad that I took the opportunity to try it.  It's a dish I'd order again.

For sides, we ordered the sautéed spinach with chilli ($12) and the buttery mash ($9):

No meal is complete without dessert, and this one was no exception. Tim ordered the hot apple pie with warm anglaise ($19), as he had heard good things about it:

He was not disappointed.

I ordered a daily special, a peach and raspberry crostata:

It was delicious, with the fruity filling being quite refreshing, and the crumb on the side adding a pleasing texture.

The service at Becco was friendly and efficient, adding to the overall terrific evening that we had at Becco.

11-25 Crossley Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Ph: (03) 9663 3000

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Golden Harvest Slice

This month's Red Tractor calendar recipe is Golden Harvest Slice.  The name of this recipe really appealed to me and I had high hopes for it.  It comprises a buttery base topped with fruit and nuts.

The harvest theme of the recipe goes well with the quote of the month:

However, this slice was just a bit meh for me.  OK, I didn't have any dried apricots as called for in the recipe, and I forgot to add the almonds in the topping.  However, I am still not sure that these ingredients would have changed my mind in the finished product.   I also made an oopsy in forgetting to add self raising flour instead of plain flour in the topping.  Perhaps that would have made me like it better, but it wouldn't overcome the crumbly base and very sweet topping. 

I made this slice for our tap class picnic, along with a beautiful Gerard's Mustard Tart from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table:

We were going to eat our picnic in the gardens at St Kilda after our dress rehearsal and before the big concert, but it stormed, so we ate it in the cramped conditions behind the stage at the theatre where we were to perform that evening.

If you would like to try Golden Harvest Slice, you will need:


1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
125g cold butter

Combine the flour and sugar in a food processor, then pulse in the butter.  Press into a greased 20cm x 30cm slice tin.


40g softened butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup self raising flour
1/4 cup brandy
90 g chopped dates
90g sultanas
90g chopped dried apricots
90g sliced raw almonds

Mix the butter, brown sugar, brandy, flour and golden syrup together.  Stir in the fruit and nuts.

Spoon the topping over the base, and bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes.

Remove the slice from the oven and allow to cool in the tin on a rack.  Cut into squares.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

TWD - Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Dulce de Leche Filling

It's Thanksgiving on Thursday in the US, so the time is right for the Dorie's Cookies bakers to make pumpkin whoopie pies with dulce de leche filling.  These are light, spongy cakes, studded with cranberries, and in the recipe, filled with marshmallow crème and dulce de leche.

I made some changes to the recipe.  First, fresh cranberries are pretty nigh impossible to get here, so I used dried cranberries.  Also, marshmallow crème is not something that is easy to get here, so I substituted cream cheese frosting for the filling. (My frosting is oozing out because I had to fill the whoopee pies while they were still warm.)

As these whoopee pies are baked in muffin tins, they do not have the lovely domed shape of normal whoopee pies. However, don't hold that against them.  These whoopee pies are light and fluffy and scrumptious.  I am glad that I only made half a batch, as it would be easy to eat more than one!

To see what the other Dorie bakers made, visit the LYL section of the Tuesdays with Dorie website.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Curtis Stone's Sausage and Asparagus Pasta

In another delve into the supermarket magazines, I chose to make Curtis Stone's pasta with sausages and asparagus from the October 2017 Coles magazine.  As a disclaimer to my comments, I am not a huge pasta fan or a huge sausage fan.  So, you may ask, why did you choose to make this?  Well, because it sounded quick and easy and a good thing to make to  take to work for lunch.

Don't get me wrong - this pasta was OK, and I think it got better as the week went by.  I think part of my indifference to it stemmed from the sausages that I used (Woolworths beef, garlic and rosemary sausages; sacrilege, I know, when the recipe calls for Coles Beef Oregano and Parsley Sausages). I think plain old beef sausages would have been better.

If pasta is your thing and you like sausages, then this would be a great quick and easy dinner.

The recipe is as follows:

1 tablespoon olive oil
500g beef sausages (I am agnostic as to which ones you use)
2 chopped cloves garlic
1 1/3 cups passata
250g large spiral pasta
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 4cm pieces
20g grated parmesan

Remove the sausage meat from the casings and break into small chunks.

Heat the oil in a frypan and cook the sausage meat until golden brown.  Add the garlic and cook until garlic is fragrant.  reduce the heat and add the passata.  Simmer and cook for 2 minutes or until the passata reduces slightly.

While the sausage is cooking, cook the pasta according to the packet.  During the last 2 minutes of cooking time, add the asparagus. Drain the pasta and reserve 1/2 cup cooking liquid.

Add the pasta and asparagus to the sauce and toss to combine, then add 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking liquid to the sauce to thin it out.  Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with parmesan and serve.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

TWD - Brown Sugar Tart

For Tuesday with Dorie this week, I made Brown Sugar Tart.  As described by Dorie, it is like pecan pie filling without the pecans plus bacon.

As Dorie also mentioned, this tart is sweet - super sweet.

The jury is out for me on this tart.  I didn't like it while still slightly warm - it was very egg custardy at that stage.  Once cold or room temperature, this tart was OK, although the bacon in it was not my favourite thing.  You need something to take away from the toothe-aching sweetness of the filling, but I am not sure that bacon is my preference for doing so.

This one was also not a favourite with the punters at work, and a few forlorn pieces were still left when I headed for home.

To see what the others baked this week, and what they thought of it, visit the LYL section of the TWD website.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Curtis Stone's Stir Fried Rice Noodles with Chicken and Vegetables

I am sometimes  lost for inspiration as to what to cook.  If left to my own devices, I could slip into a routine of my fallback stir fry, roasts and grilled meats.  For that reason, I love getting the supermarket magazines and flicking through for ideas before I shop for the week.

The October 2017 Coles magazine has a very yummy recipe for stir-fried rice noodles with chicken and vegetables by Curtis Stone.  I wasn't quite sure about this recipe when I chose it as it uses chicken mince (not one of my favourite things generally), but the combination of flavours and textures transforms the chicken mince into something delicious.   Curtis says that the chilli garlic (siracha) sauce is optional, but for me, it made the dish.

This dish is quick and easy to make, and uses sauces that I already had in the pantry.

To make it, you will need:

1/4 cup oyster sauce
 2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon siracha sauce
150g pad thai noodles
2 tablespoons olive oil
500g chicken mince
120g sliced button mushrooms
1 carrot sliced into matchsticks
1 thinly sliced brown onion

Whisk the sauces and 2 tablespoons of water together in a small bow, and set aside.

Cook the noodles in salted boiling water for ~ 5 minutes, rinse under cold water and drain.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a frypan or wok.  Cook the mince in the pan until browned, breaking it up as you go. Transfer the mince to a plate.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan, and when the  oil is smoking, add the mushrooms, carrot and onion and stir fry until the mushrooms are tender.  Stir in the chicken mince and the sauce, and combine well.  Toss the noodles through the mixture and stir until heated through.

Serve in large bowls garnished with chopped spring onions (if desired).