Recipe: Fruits in Liqueur

A couple of years ago, Diana Henry put out a book called Salt Sugar Smoke, which is all about preserving things.

I’m terrified of preserving things, because my kitchen is always full of dirty dishes and I’m convinced that no matter how careful I am about sterilising jars, I’m going to give everyone botulism.

However.  There was one collection of recipes that that looked so simple that it was basically irresistible.  Also, they are completely full of alcohol, and I defy any botulism bacteria to find a way in to something that is basically alcohol and sugar.

Lots of alcohol.  Lots and lots and LOTS of alcohol.  And sugar.

Lots of alcohol. Lots and lots and LOTS of alcohol. And sugar.

Also also, it’s November, and I’m about to get consumed by Christmas singing.  If I don’t get onto Christmas now, I’m basically stuffed.  And what could be more Christmassy than fruit preserved in excessive quantities of alcohol and sugar?

So on Sunday morning I hied me to the Farmers’ Market for stone fruits, and then to the bottle shop, where I proceeded to buy more alcohol than I have ever seen before (and probably considerably more than I have consumed in my lifetime to date, come to think of it), under the helpful supervision of the kindly Hannah at Dan Murphy’s, who took pity on my complete confusion about what eau de vie was and which kind of rum might work better in Confiture Vieux Garçon, and helped me find options that were not too outrageously expensive.

(She also very kindly did not look at me as though I was a total lush, though, to be fair, my obvious ignorance of what most of the things I was buying actually tasted like probably made it clear that I wasn’t a very promising candidate for alcoholism.  Though I did get quite distracted by a Sicilian blood orange liqueur which I could absolutely not justify buying…)


Anyway, first, I want you to know that putting fruit in alcohol is awesome, and so is Diana Henry’s book.  My personal favourite recipe so far is the aforementioned Confiture Vieux Garçon, which is essentially a thing where you take fruit as it is ripe, mix it with sugar and cover it with brandy, kirsch or rum, and then leave it until the next round of fruit is ripe, at which point you sugar that and add it and cover it with more alcohol, and so on, until your jar is full of layers of different kinds of fruit, all thoroughly sozzled.

But the reason I’m really writing this post, the magic, glorious thing that I discovered this weekend is because I have discovered the ultimate Christmas gift recipe.  You can make it in November and then forget about it while you do all your mad Christmas parties and singing in December.  In fact, you want to make it in November, because it needs time to steep and become glorious.  It looks beautiful.  It tastes divine.  It is luxurious.  And it takes less than five minutes to make.

Do I have your attention?

Here it is:


Your shopping list

500 g dried nectarines
750 ml white muscat Continue reading

Recipe: Quandong and Bush Food Jam Thumbprints (Vegan, Gluten-Free)

Still with the biscuits.  I made a lot of biscuits last weekend.  Can you tell?  I’m also still swimming in brownie mix, which is completely awesome, though I’m glad I chose the route of sanity with regard to mixing up all the random bits of chocolate and using them as choc chips, and instead grouped them in ways likely to result in pleasing, rather than alarming, flavour combinations.

But I digress.  I had more macadamia nut crumbs leftover after making my super-awesome strawberry gum biscuits, and this inspired me to go looking in my pantry for other bushfood ingredients to play with.  I couldn’t find the lemon myrtle which I am positive is lurking somewhere, but I did find dried quandongs and also a mixed bush-fruits jam from Outback Spirit (they don’t seem to make it anymore, alas, but you can get Rosella Jam here).  Good enough!

The dried quandongs looked a little unpromising at first, being very hard and dry and woody in texture, so I reconstituted them with water and found them pleasingly tangy.  Also, when blended, they were moist enough to obviate the need for egg in the biscuits, yay, vegan biscuits!

The biscuits came out a lovely pink colour, but alas, lacking in the expected tang.  Instead, they tasted mostly like a macadamia-based jam thumbprint – which is certainly not a bad thing to taste like, but is nonetheless a little disappointing if quandong was what you were after.  I’d recommend adding some quandong essence if you have it, or maybe some lemon or finger-lime zest to the dough. (Finger lime zest would be better, from a bushfood standpoint, but you’d probably need a few of them to do the job…)


Your Shopping List

25 g dried quandongs (mine came from Footeside Farm)
1/2 cup water or lemon juice
100g macadamia nuts
zest of 1 lemon
100 g almond meal
30g maple syrup
about 6 tsp rosella jam, or other bushfood jam

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Recipe: Super Nutty Snickerdoodle-doos (Gluten-Free)

What sort of word is Snickerdoodle, anyway?  A silly one, that’s what.  And these are silly biscuits.

No, actually, they aren’t all that silly.  In fact, as biscuits go, they are quite responsible.  They are not too sweet, a little bit chewy, and have a nice, nutty, cinnamon sort of taste that begs to be paired with a nice glass of milk.  I don’t actually like walnuts very much, but these biscuits somehow sneak around that, despite being really rather walnutty, and convince me that I want to eat more.  This is perhaps less responsible biscuit behaviour, but then, it is probably unfair to blame the biscuit for the fact that I want to eat it, don’t you think?

The mix of nuts is based purely on how much was left in a bunch of open packets of nuts that I found on my kitchen bench.  I think walnuts, pecans and cashews make a nice mix, and have the sort of dark nutty taste that pairs well with spices (I think of pistachios or almonds as having a lighter nutty taste.  Cashews are somewhere in the middle and could go with either) but the proportions could easily be varied, as could the nuts themselves.


Your Shopping List (or leftovers list, as the case may be)

100 g walnuts
60 g pecans
40 g roasted cashews
1 tbsp cornflour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
100g caster sugar
1 egg
cinnamon sugar to sprinkle

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Recipe: Strawberry Gum and Macadamia Biscuits (Gluten-Free)

Hello!  I’m back!  The Centenary Games are all over but the shouting (alas, there is quite a bit of shouting still), and I am actually getting to do things like come home from work on time and then SLEEP.  During which time I dream about the Centenary Sports Carnival and its controversies, but hopefully this too shall pass.

One of the more unfortunate side effects of not being at home much for months and months and months and not being in any fit state to think or do anything creative when I was has been the insane buildup of random stuff all over my kitchen.  I am too terrified to tackle the pantry just yet, but today I went through the fridge and started going through the mess on the benchtops and kitchen table.

The result?  The discovery that I had about twelve open packets of nuts of various varieties in numerous degrees of fullness, as well as an inordinate amount of butter and the last little bits of a truly ridiculous range of chocolates (some from Easter, some from Christmas, some from zombie Catherine making ill-advised purchases when there were specials at the supermarket).

Obviously, the only response to this situation was a nut- and chocolate-centric baking frenzy, and so this afternoon, I have made four kinds of biscuits, three batches of my brownie packet mix (each featuring a different collection of chocolate odds and ends), and some rather decadent-looking raw chocolate lava cakes that will be tonight’s dessert.


(And now I have no desire whatsoever to make dinner, for some reason.  Who would have imagined this?)

Anyway, the good news for this blog is that three of those recipes were brand spanking new ones (where on earth did that saying come from, anyway?  I have a feeling that if I try Googling this, I’m going to see things that I cannot unsee, so I think I’d better leave well alone), which means that you have three gluten-free biscuit recipes coming soon to this blog.  Huzzah!  And one of them is vegan!  Double huzzah!! And two of them are really, really easy, fast ones, too!  Triple huzzah!

Yeah, I’m a little manic right now.  Hi!

These biscuits fall into the super-easy category, once you find the strawberry gum in the first place.  This is an Australian native ingredient – a eucalypt with a strawberry scent to it.  I got mine from Peppermint Ridge Farm, who visit a number of Farmers’ Markets around Melbourne.  Herbie’s Spices also stock it, though I think their herb had a milder flavour than the one I used.  I recommend adjusting the recipe to taste – it tastes pretty much the same uncooked as it will cooked, though the herb fades slightly in the oven.

I’m super happy with this recipe.  It tastes like nothing I’ve ever baked before, and it is both simple and delicious.  Also, the biscuits come out an attractive shade of pale green.  I think I’ll be using these in my Christmas hampers…


Your Shopping List

100g macadamias
100g almond meal
1-2 tsp powdered strawberry gum leaves (check the taste before adding the second teaspoon)
50 g sugar
1 egg

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Recipe: Crisp Vegetable Salad for Spring

I haven’t been doing much cooking recently, or at least, not much that is creative, but this little salad has been a nice change from the usual lettuce-cucumber-tomato-capsicum deal, and is a nice, fresh, crisp-tasting side-dish for spring.

Today’s version is brought to you by my friend A, who gave me a bag of baby carrots – really carrot thinnings, so even cuter – mint and other goodies from her garden when we went to pick her up for a freecycling trip.  The amounts are vague, because I am vague too, but the combination of small, sweet, crisp carrot with spicy radish, fragrant mint and aniseedy fennel is very tasty, and very easy to bring together on a plate.  You can use any light tasting vinegar – cider or white wine vinegar would work – but strawberry vinegar seemed to fit with the spring-like theme of this salad.

This recipe serves two as a side dish.


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Catherine Day and High Tea at the NGV

It lives!

Once again, I am emerging briefly from the insanity that is my work this year to give this whole blogging thing another try.  I suspect that this will be a one-off again, as my next event is only four weeks away and right now I don’t have much time or energy for cooking, let alone thinking of new recipes, but you never know.  Also, while I am boringly not talking about food, a quick admin note – I’ve recently switched to a new webhosting provider, because I got tired of waiting 40 seconds for a page to load, and figured that you were probably tired of it too.  Hopefully the site is now running a bit better, but if you notice any issues (or broken links), please let me know!

Today was Catherine Day at the National Gallery of Victoria.  This event was announced about a week ago, in honour of the current exhibition of works from Catherine the Great’s Hermitage.  Anyone with the name Catherine or Kate (any spelling, middle names count) could get into the exhibition for free.

The greatest of Catherines, in a rather crooked photo because the gallery was full and it was hard to get near enough to the portrait for a photo without someone standing in front of me!

As someone who has spent her entire life in the middle of a crowd of Catherines and Kates (and who regularly signed her letters ‘Catherine the Great’ as a teenager), with the only benefit to date being the inability of anyone to ever guess the spelling of my name correctly (a pox on all those people who call their daughters Kathryn!) this was absolutely irresistible.  So I informed my longsuffering lab heads that I was taking the day off for a Very Important Event, and this morning I hied me forth to the gallery at 10am to see just how many Catherines would show up to a Catherine-centric event.

The answer was… quite a lot.  About fifty of us were milling around the door before the gallery opened (“Is this the Catherine area?”  “Are we all Catherines?”  “Well, he certainly isn’t!”), and by the time we were gathered for a photo, there were at least a hundred, maybe even double that.  When they grouped us together in front of the big portrait of Catherine the Great, we filled the area all squashed together (“Tall Catherines at the back!” one Catherine suggested “OK, which Catherine blinked?” asked another).  It was highly amusing.  The premier’s wife, Catherine Andrews, came around and greeted us all and asked us whether we were Catherine with a C or with a K, and high fived us for being C Catherines (something tells me that she, too, has suffered from the tendency of everyone to always assume K.  I blame L.M. Montgomery).  Other guests looked at us askance, evidently not aware of the event and rather wishing they had picked another day to visit.  We were photographed by several newspapers and a couple of TV channels (nice and well-deserved publicity for the NGV), and then released into the wild to enjoy our Catherine exhibition.

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Recipe: DIY Brownie Packet Mix (gluten-free)

OK, after yesterday’s exploration of the truly disgusting things one can create while in pursuit of dessert, I thought we deserved something a bit less traumatic. So here, have a soothing brownie.


Is it not beautiful?  Does it not inspire meditation?  Or, indeed, imitation?

Or even levitation?  This brownie is not, in fact, levitating, but you wouldn't know it to look at this photo.

Or even levitation? This brownie is not, in fact, levitating, but you wouldn’t know it to look at this photo.

The good news is, you can plan this brownie ahead of time and eat it whenever you like.

This brownie mix grew out of the fact that at certain times of the month I desperately, desperately crave chocolate cake and brownies, but am generally feeling far too unwell to do the culinary work required to create them.  This leaves me with the option of buying brownies made by someone else  – and I don’t have any good sources for those in my vicinity – or resorting to packet mixes (I use the Donna Hay ones because the ingredients are actually proper cake ingredients).  Only then I feel guilty about resorting to packet mixes, and then I need to eat more chocolate brownies.  This cycle serves nobody (except, perhaps, Donna Hay).

But I am breaking the cycle!  I am breaking the cycle by creating my own packet mix, that can be put together on days when I actually feel like measuring stuff, and then stashed in the pantry, ready to be made up when I need it.

This packet mix is gluten-free, and can be made in a variety of flavour profiles.  I haven’t yet figured out how to veganise it, but I suspect this would not be too difficult for anyone with practice in the matter.  That will be my next brownie experiment.

In the meantime – enjoy!  Enjoy very, very much. Continue reading

Culinary Experiment: Spiced Chocolate Black Bean Meringue THINGS of DOOM

Also known as, Why People Are Making Meringues With Chickpea Water All Over The Internet but Nobody Is Making Them With Black Bean Water.

So on Friday I was tired.  Really, really tired.  Tired enough to absent-mindedly pour half a packet of chilli con carne spice mix into a batch of Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chilli, not because my hand slipped, but because my brain genuinely thought that pouring spices into a saucepan by the sackful was a good idea.  This is what several days of seminars and not enough sleep will do to a Catherine.  (The chilli was not improved by this act of misjudgment, incidentally.)

Anyway, this left me with the water from two tins of black beans, and I looked at the terrible, purple-grey, goopy stuff with the eyes of tiredness and poor judgment, and began to wonder whether one could  make meringues out of black bean water.

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Review: Vegan Degustation at Shu Restaurant, Collingwood

A couple of weeks ago, I had a message on my Facebook page from Shu, the owner and chef at Shu Restaurant.  Shu Restaurant is a relatively new (three years old?) restaurant in Collingwood specialising in Sichuan fusion cuisine, and Shu wanted to invite me to a twelve course Christmas in August vegan degustation that he was organising for a group of Melbourne vegetarian food bloggers.

A vegan Sichuan fusion  Christmas in August degustation.  I had absolutely no idea what that entailed, but it sounded completely fascinating.  I was in.


To really do this review justice, I think it is important to start by noting that I am actually a fairly terrible audience for Sichuan food.  I am not good with food that is very spicy – and really, all I knew about Sichuan food was that it was very spicy indeed – and I very rarely eat Chinese food of any stamp.  This is because I always disliked Chinese food whenever we ate it when I was growing up, and I have not really explored the cuisine enough to give it a fair try as an adult, mostly because the prevalence of peanuts, soy sauce and chilli has tended to discourage me.  (Having said that, on both the occasions on which I have both eaten and enjoyed Chinese food as an adult, that food was vegan, so the omens were not entirely inauspicious.)

The point is that while I was really excited to be asked to this degustation, and I do really want to give new food experiences a chance, I was also a little terrified that I’d walk out with my head on fire from all the chilli.

I didn’t.  The food was delicious and delicate and very, very pretty, the spice levels were varied, but had enough gentle dishes among them to keep anyone from combusting, and it was a truly new set of flavours for me.  I would definitely go back.

Oh, and two more quick disclaimers / apologies before I start.  First, in case I have not made this sufficiently clear, I am horribly ignorant about the flavours and ingredients used in Sichuan cuisine.  So I have described everything as well as I can, but I may well have things wrong.  Second, I forgot my camera when leaving the house, so the photos were all taken on my phone, and are thus not very good.

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Recipe: Lamb and Chickpea Stew with Tomato, Lemon, Chilli and Oregano

I keep popping my head up for air and then making big promises of a return to regular blogging.  And then I get swallowed up by work again, or come down with the plague, or both, and I disappear underwater again for another month.

So I’m not going to make any grandiose plans this time, except to note that I do, in fact, have three posts in progress right now, and a likely two more to come, if only I can tread water fast enough… After that, well, August is full of centenary stuff for work, so I suspect I will start sinking again.  But I’ll be back when I can, I promise.

(and if you are interested in the Centenary stuff, here’s a link to all the Science in the Square events for August – they look like a lot of fun, so if science is something you are interested in, come along and see what’s happening!)

To the recipe, Batman!

This was just a simple stew I put together one Sunday evening when I had a shoulder of lamb that wasn’t quite defrosted enough to roast, a couple of lemons which had been zested but not juiced, chickpeas from a tin that had been drained for meringue purposes and were drying out in the fridge, and a lot of tomatoes and onions – and also no desire to go to the shops.  I was in an Italian or Greek sort of mood, so I added oregano and chilli and just a little cinnamon, and the result was one of the best lamb stews I’ve ever made – very fresh and clean tasting, and lovely with Turkish bread, labneh and tabouli (and the next night, in a bake with macaroni and melted cheese).

Of course, the challenging part of this recipe – which I do not expect you to do – was getting the meat off the lamb shoulder.  You see, this was yet another piece of the infamous and enormous Roast Lamb Pack that I got at Easter, in a state of ill-advised post-Lenten euphoria, but we just don’t eat that many roasts in our household.  So I figured I’d carve the lamb off the bone and cut it into chunks myself.  This turned out to be tricky for two reasons.  First, the lamb just would not defrost, which made cutting it difficult.  And secondly, well, let’s just say that I have renewed respect for butchers as professionals.  Figuring out where the bone is (especially when the joint is half frozen) is really difficult.  Making usefully sized and shaped chunks out of the meat, while avoiding waste, is even harder.  I suspect diced meat is priced well under what it is worth in terms of labour.

But in this case, my work was all worthwhile.  This is a great stew, and I’ll be making it again.

(And apologies for returning to blogging with yet another meat post.  Sadly, the tireder I am, the more likely I am to revert to easy food, and my repertoire of easy vegetarian food that Andrew will also eat is just not up to the job… something to work on next year, when I have a life again!)

Your Shopping List

olive oil
500 g – 750g lamb shoulder, diced by someone else
2 tsp lamb spice mix from Gewürzhaus (optional)
2 big onions, sliced
2 tbsp chilli flakes (yes, this is quite hot, but it’s a nice, clean heat – I really liked it)
2 tbsp oregano
5 cloves of garlic (or cheat like I did, and use 1 tablespoon of Gewürzhaus garlic lovers spice)
a handful of cherry tomatoes (optional, I had some, they were going to go off if I didn’t use them, you know the drill…)
2 tins of tomatoes, or one tin of tomatoes and a jar of tomato-based pasta sauce
juice of two lemons
1 tin of chickpeas (drained)
1 cinnamon stick
salt and pepper to taste Continue reading