Recipe: Ridiculously Decadent, Sin-Black Biscuits for Purim

OK, so the first thing you will notice about this post is that it isn’t Purim.  (Perhaps I am overestimating my readers’ grasp of just when all the Jewish festivals are, but then again, since my readership is full of bakers, and Purim always seems to me as a religiously-mandated excuse for baking – you’re supposed to make little baskets of biscuits and give them to people, this is the festival I would make up if I made up festivals – my chances might be better than I think.)

The second thing you will notice about this post is that my last sentence went on and on and on and on and on…

The reason for both these things is Project Grants.  They are due tomorrow.  There were 19 of them in my group, plus a few little Cancer Council and Cancer Australia bagatelles, and I have been reading them.  And proof-reading them.  And, occasionally, inserting sarcastic marginalia into them.  This has been phenomenally time-consuming, and has probably not improved my ability to write sensible sentences.  Next week, we have fellowships, the week after that we have more fellowships, then there is Easter, at which point I will escalate my current insane Lenten singing schedule into something that borders on the impossible, or at least the highly improbable, after which we have more fellowships, a grant report, two events that I am running in late April, and a Program Grant due in May.  And a concert the day before the grant goes in.  Hooray!

All of which is a very long way of saying that yes, I’m cooking, yes, I’m thinking about food, and yes, I’m even making up recipes.  But sometimes it’s going to take me a few weeks to write them down, because, as you may by now have grasped, I am hardly ever at home, and when I am, it is for sleeping.

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Anyway, back to these cookies, because these cookies are awesome.  They are basically a riff on some cookies in Claudia Roden’s Book of Jewish Food, only I changed virtually all the ingredients.  As you do.  But they are still sort of the same cookies, in texture, personality, and, most importantly, in their really, really spectacularly easy method.

Also, they really do look coal-black when they go into the oven.  It’s rather awesome.

These cookies take about ten minutes to put together, and then 25 minutes to cook, and they would probably keep very well if I didn’t have hungry scientists who don’t give anything the opportunity to keep well.  Claudia Roden says that the original biscuits keep well, and that’s good enough for me.

As are these delicious, chocolatey, ever-so-slightly boozy biscuits.

Your Shopping List (makes about 16 little cookies, if I recall correctly)

100 g almond meal
100 g hazelnut meal
50 g dark, dark cocoa
75 g caster sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons brandy (make sure you roll the R when you say it, it’s that sort of biscuit)

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Recipe: Slightly Cheaty Lemon Meringue Surprise Pie

I am so proud of this recipe.  It came about because I realised a while back that, actually, I make pretty good lemon curd and I know how to make meringue, so theoretically, lemon meringue pie should be within my grasp.  And guess what?  It turns out that it is.  Pretty exciting, don’t you think?

The cheaty part is that I don’t like making pastry, so I just made a ginger-biscuit crust – the kind one makes for un-cooked cheesecakes – which was lovely, except that then the butter tried to make a break for freedom all over the oven, fridge and table.  Learn from my example – make sure you line the outside of the tin with foil.

The surprise part is a SURPRISE!  Oh, alright, you’re reading the recipe, you probably deserve to know what it is.  It’s fresh raspberries.  Because everything is better with fresh raspberries, don’t you think?  Especially cheaty lemon meringue pie…

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250 g gingernut biscuits
125 g butter + 40 g
125 g fresh raspberries
4 eggs
75 g sugar + 200g sugar
zest of two lemons
juice of one lemon

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Recipe: Choc-Mint Birthday Cupcakes for Andrew

It’s Andrew’s birthday today!  Happy birthday, Andrew!  Every year, I ask him what kind of cake he would like for his birthday, and every year, I get a slightly terrified look (you want me to make a decision?  About food?), followed by a sheepish acknowledgement, after some discussion, that yes, he does want something chocolatey and minty.  Again.  Because being an Andrew means wanting choc-mint everything all the time.  (He knows what he likes…)

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The problem with Andrew having a birthday at this time of year is that he never gets a truly elaborate birthday cake, mostly because I am in the middle of grant season.  This grant season has been particularly diabolical, too, what with the NHMRC compressing all the due dates so that all the grants are due a week apart, changing the rules twice (so far), and then our finance department providing the coup de grace by introducing new costings for all our internal services the day all the budgets were due to the grants office.   It’s all rather exhausting, not to say demoralising, and while it’s awfully early in the year to be losing the will to live, I, for one, am getting close to that point.

(The good news is that I’m getting a lot of singing work, which is always a balm to the soul.  Though not conducive to blogging.  So yes, there is a significant chance that I will be disappearing off the radar quite a bit over the next couple of months.  And I’m sorry about that lengthy whinge.  As I said, I’m feeling rather demoralised.)

Here, have some cupcakes to un-demoralise you.

Here, have some cupcakes to un-demoralise you.

Anyway.  Cake!  So, as you may have gathered, my priority for Andrew’s birthday cake is to produce a cake that is on the one hand suitably choc-minty and decadent, and on the other hand really, really fast to make.  Which, oddly enough, tends to mean vegan or nearly-vegan, since most of those cupcake recipes are very straightforward.  As a bonus, of course, this means that I can easily cater to my sister-in-law, who prefers to avoid dairy if possible.

These cupcakes, then, are just a nice, simple, vegan cupcake, flavoured with really good cocoa, and an optional (non vegan) cube of mint-filled chocolate in the centre.  I’ve topped them with a really basic peppermint-spiked chocolate tofu mousse, which is, frankly, easier to make than chocolate ganache, and not a lot more complicated than chocolate buttercream, and much tastier.

Not elaborate, but entirely delicious.  Which is really all you can ask for from a cupcake…

Your Shopping List (Makes seven big cupcakes – one for everyone in the family, plus an extra one for the birthday boy)

2/3 cup almond milk + 20 ml for the topping
3/4 tsp cider or white wine vinegar
3/4 cup plain flour or plain spelt flour
1/4 cup really good Dutch-style cocoa
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
1/4 cup canola oil
1/3 cup sugar
7 squares of Cadbury Peppermint Block, or similar (optional)
125 g silken tofu
2 tsp creme de cacao (optional)
115 g dark chocolate
6 drops peppermint oil, or peppermint essence to taste (start with 1/4 teaspoon)
Green sugar, optional

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Review: Curry Delights

A little while back, I signed up for a KickStarter called Curry Delights.  Curry Delights is a new business, founded by Ambika and Vikram, who live in Sydney and want to bring Indian feasts into Australian kitchens.  The idea is that you subscribe, and once a month you get a box containing a combination of spice mixes, raw rice grains and poppadoms, ready to eat snacks, a dessert, a shopping list for fresh ingredients, and a recipe booklet telling you how to put together your menu.  Ambika and Vikram promise a new menu every month, featuring a different Indian cuisine.

This sort of thing is absolutely irresistible for someone like me.  I love hampers, I love surprises, I love cooking, and I’m really kind of useless at cooking Indian food, so it really was a win all around – I backed the Kickstarter immediately, and signed up for three months of boxes, as well as a gratuitous box of snacks to eat in front of the cricket.  The first box arrived this week.

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(Actually, it arrived last Friday, and the evil courier didn’t deliver it, and then dropped it off somewhere that we couldn’t possibly collect it from until Tuesday.  Mere words cannot convey how frustrating this was.  I wanted my exciting Indian surprise feast and I couldn’t have it!)

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Recipe: Sunken Blueberry, Macadamia and Lime Cupcakes

I always have my suspicions when a recipe calls itself a ‘sunken cake’.  I am sure that this is meant to convey a sense of dense, richness, almost of decadence – the sense of a cake that is so full of wonderful things that it sinks under its own weight.

But I’m pretty sure what it means is that the cook in question made this awesome, delicious, moist cake, and yet, through some accident of culinary alchemy, the rotten thing came out of the oven with a canyon in the middle.  But naturally you can’t tell your visitors or customers that, so you pretend that this was what you were aiming for all along.  “Oh, that’s just my famous sunken chocolate cake.  It’s simply divine with cream.  Would you like the recipe?”

Of course, it’s possible that my suspicions are founded entirely on the fact that this is what happened to these cupcakes.  I decided to experiment with macadamia meal (which does not, thank you so much, Sunbeam, behave exactly like almond meal in a cake), and thought I’d start fiddling around with a recipe loosely based on another one of those beautiful things from Red Velvet, Chocolate Heartache.  And of course, the macadamias turned out to brown much faster than almond meal, and then it’s possible I put in too many blueberries, and the whole thing sank like a stone.  Well, stones.  There were 14 cupcakes, so that makes 14 little valleys of the shadow of culinary disaster…

I wasn’t going to post the recipe, because they looked so disastrous, but they actually met with a fair bit of enthusiasm at this morning’s meeting, so there you go.  Which is another way of saying that the photographs on this recipe are rather minimalist.  I’m sorry about that.  If I could think of a way to make that sound intentional and appetising, I would…

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Your Shopping List

150 g macadamia meal
50 g white rice flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarb soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
zest and juice of 1 lime
200 g zucchini, peeled, topped and tailed
2 medium eggs
120 caster sugar
125 g blueberries, plus 12 for decoration
250 g icing sugar
a teeny tiny drop of green colouring

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Recipe: Chocolate Rye Zucchini Bread

I’ve been wanting to make chocolate bread for a while, but the ganglion cyst on my wrist makes kneading dough very painful, so it’s all been on the back burner.  But having made Pizza Serafina last week for the Great Bake Off at work (which I really must write about at some point, because it was absolutely bonkers and beyond my wildest imaginings), sore wrists and all, I found myself with leftover fresh yeast – and when I was talking to my aunt about the pizza afterward, she reminded me that my Nonna also used to make a dough that was so wet that one couldn’t really knead it anyway – one just pushed it around a bit in the bowl.

Of course, I don’t have that recipe, and it’s probably madness to make up a recipe for bread, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, and I didn’t want that yeast to go to waste (apparently, I had no qualms about potentially wasting a lot of flour and cocoa and chocolate in my attempt to salvage the yeast…).

One of my scientists recently gave me a medium-sized marrow, with the comment that I was the only person he knew under the age of 60 who might know what to do with it.  If one is going to be the Under-60 Marrow Champion, one must be prepared to take some risks, so I decided that what this chocolate bread really needed was some grated zucchini, to keep it moist.

And maybe some rye flour, to underline the dark, almost bitter, nuttiness of the chocolate and zucchini.

The result?  Well, the dough was downright weird, but it did rise, and I have to say, the flavour isn’t half bad.  This recipe made two loaves of a nice, slightly sweet, chocolatey bread, studded with chocolate, that kind of begs for a little apricot jam, if you ask me.  It’s quite lovely and soft, and perhaps a little on the heavy side, with the rye and chocolate flavours both very much present.  It’s the sort of thing you could have when you felt like eating chocolate for breakfast, without feeling too bad about it afterward.

And hey – it used up a significant portion of that marrow!

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35 g fresh yeast (about 10-12g dried yeast)
500 ml lukewarm water
100 g brown sugar
300 g grated zucchini or marrow (about 2-3 small zucchini)1 tsp salt
400 g bread flour
75 g cocoa powder
325 g rye flour
3 tbsp olive oil
200 g chopped dark chocolate

Cinnamon sugar or a little brown sugar to top, optional but very good!

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Recipe: Italo-Australian Strawberry Trifle

This is one of those recipes that sort of evolved as I wandered along Sydney Road on the weekend, and then started poking around in my pantry at home. 

First, I fell for the beautiful tiny strawberries at La Manna, which were just begging to find their way into a dessert of some sort.  Then, my eyes were seduced by the enormous, glowingly-pink rosewater meringues at Josephine’s.  I pictured a sort of hot pink Eton Mess.  But as I came back from my walk today, I found myself drawn to the beautiful handmade sponge fingers at the Pasticceria on the corner of my street.  So I started thinking trifling thoughts… but trifle is very rich, and I really didn’t feel like making custard – especially when I already had meringues in the house and thus no simple use for all those extra egg whites…

A peek into my fridge, however, reminded me that I still had a bit of low-fat ricotta leftover from another recipe last week, as well as half a tub of mascarpone and a lot of low fat Greek yoghurt.    So that was the creamy part taken care of, though it was a little bit bland… which is when I remembered that I had a sachet of powdered strawberry gum, an Australian native ingredient from a Eucalypt with a sweet, fruity, floral sort of flavour that goes well with strawberries.

All that remained was to find a suitable soaking liquid for the sponge fingers, preferably something not too sweet and not too alcoholic – how fortunate that I had most of a bottle of Wild Dog Natural Produce‘s strawberry vinegar in the house.

The result?  A surprisingly light, fresh-tasting dessert with a wild pink topping.  I am not absolutely certain that the meringue was necessary to this recipe, but it certainly gave it a pizzaz it wouldn’t have had otherwise!  The strawberry gum made the ricotta mascarpone cream rather grey-looking, but the flavour was superb – and it complemented the strawberries beautifully.  I’ll be making this again.

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Your Shopping List

100g mascarpone
100 g low fat ricotta
100 g low fat Greek yoghurt
20 g brown sugar
15 ml powdered strawberry gum (optional, but magnificent if you can get it)
6 bit sponge fingers
1/2 cup strawberry vinegar
2 punnets of strawberries (about 400 g once you’ve hulled them)1 teaspoon raw sugar
1 gigantic pink meringue (vanilla, rosewater, raspberry or another berry flavour)

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Anyone Can Cook Fabulous Vegetarian Food: Zucchini Zeitgeist and Merry Marrows

Ah, February.  The season of smoky heat and bushfires (she says, looking dubiously out the window at the pouring rain), of nights too humid for sleep, of days that are long but growing just a little shorter, of children going back to school, of marrows taking over the garden.

I am a terrible gardener, and perhaps this is why I have never managed to succumb to a total zucchini invasion.  My zucchini plants grow filmy white on their leaves, and then they shrivel up, and my zucchinis themselves, while delicious, never reach the apocalyptic numbers I dream of, nor the intimidating size one so frequently hears of.  I do not find myself building zucchini ziggurats or succumbing to squash samurai, nor am I menaced by marrow marauders or carnivorous courgettes.

Which is a rather sad, really.

So I make up for it by buying way too many zucchini at the markets, so that I, too, can face the challenge of what to do with this abundance.  Except that it isn’t a very good challenge, because I have loads of ideas, and nowhere near enough zucchini to do them justice.

I’m sure you do, too.

The February 2015 theme is
Zucchinis and marrows

(Because I can’t possibly be the only person out there who sees a three kilo marrow as a golden opportunity)

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Recipe: Scrambled Tofu with Cajun Spices

Three quarters of the way through the month and it’s probably time I actually created a recipe for my Anyone Can Cook Vegetarian Food challenge.  And in fact, I did create this recipe, several days ago – I’m just having trouble getting around to posting it. I’m running a big event at work next week and am being a bit overwhelmed not so much by the workload as by the slightly terrifying levels of enthusiasm and competitiveness being demonstrated by those around me. 

The number of questions I’ve been getting about exactly how things will work and precisely how I will prevent cheating – including the Graphics department expressing an alarming level of concern about people forging voting tokens (and I’m not at *all* worried that it’s the people who design all the images, drawings, posters etc who have forgery on their minds…) is… well, let’s just say that I’m beginning to wonder if my trust in my colleagues is misplaced and I should be appointing scrutineers.  And maybe the Electoral Commission, to supervise.

(Still, given that my biggest worry a few weeks ago was that nobody would participate, overwhelming enthusiasm is a fairly nice problem to have.  I am beginning to feel a little bit like a kindergarten teacher, however.)

Anyway.  This is indeed a lovely, quick recipe to make – and it’s tofu, which is a product I’m normally terrified of, so it’s slightly amazing, even to me, that this recipe has been getting onto my weeknight roster.  To me, this tastes like a nice, spicy version of scrambled eggs.  (Andrew tells me it tastes nothing like scrambled eggs. He’s wrong, but since he hates eggs, and likes this recipe, I’m not going to complain…)  Like scrambled eggs, it’s a good, fast recipe to put together on a hot day.

I like to serve this with corn chips, which saves any extra cooking and is also yummy.  But it’s pretty nice on it’s own, or you could stuff it into a burrito for a vegan version of breakfast burritos…

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Your shopping list

250 g soft tofu
4 spring onions (scallions)
2 capsicums, one red and one green
1-2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp Cajun spice mix
1 chipotle pepper in adobo, or 1 tsp ground chipotle pepper
½ tsp turmeric
250 g cherry tomatoes
small handful of fresh coriander (optional – leave it out if you hate coriander)
½ cup grated cheese or vegan cheeze (cheddar, mozzarella, or a combination of cheeses)
corn chips or bread to serve

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Recipe: Accidental Teff Gingerbread Brownies

I freely admit, this recipe did not start off as brownies.  I had been given some Teff flour, originally with bread in mind, but my wrist ganglion won’t really let me knead dough at present, so that was just not going to happen.  So then I  was planning to make cookies, on the generally sound principle that when experimenting with a new kind of flour, cookies are a fairly safe bet (they are small enough to maintain structural integrity even with a fairly non-sticky flour).

But then I realised that I kept on using things in measures of 1/3 cup, and I got all excited about making a recipe based on everything going in 1/3 cup measures and had to keep going come hell or high water… and then I realised that this recipe wanted a bit of a gingerbread personality, which means treacle instead of sugar, and then with oil replacing the butter (and I still don’t know why I did that, given that I then went and replaced the egg with yoghurt, so it isn’t like this recipe is dairy-free in any case), the whole batter started looking very cake-batter-ish, and indeed, soon took on that shiny texture I associate with brownies.

I know when I can argue with a recipe, and I know when a recipe is going its own way.  This recipe knew what it wanted, and I did not have the strength of will to stop it.

The result?  Well, it’s somewhere between brownie and cake.  Teff flour, it turns out, has quite a distinct flavour – wholemeal and nutty and something else I can’t quite identify.  It is also a little on the powdery side, though the denseness and moistness in the cake rescue it somewhat.

But do you know what’s really weird about this brownie? It tastes like a rum and raisin brownie with walnuts, despite containing none of those ingredients.  Bizarre.  Don’t get me wrong – the flavours are lovely.  They just aren’t the ones I was trying to put into the cake…

As culinary experiments go, I think it’s a success.  Though if I were writing this up as a paper, I’d probably fudge my initial aims and hypothesis a bit, to match my results.

(Come to think of it, I wrote more than one history paper as a student where I had to go back and re-write my introduction once I was done, because during the course of writing, I had argued myself around to a completely different point of view.  So perhaps this brownie is actually an essay about Eleanor of Aquitaine.  Stranger things have happened.)

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1 1/3 cups Teff flour
1/3 cup almond meal
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup white sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp gingerbread spice (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg)
1/4 tsp dried orange peel powder (optional, or use zest of one orange)
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup yoghurt
1/3 cup treacle
1/3 cup chopped dried apricots
1/3 cup chopped dark chocolate
1/3 cup chopped glacé ginger

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