Review: Jimmy’s Place, Doughnuts, and the First Long Walk

We’ve reached that time of year again when my colleagues and I strap on our pedometers, spend a week or so calibrating them (does this pedometer work better than that one?  Do I get more points with my pedometer attached to my pocket or my waistband?  How about my bra?), and then begin our adventures with the Global Corporate Challenge.

For me, these adventures largely consist of the rather depressing need to get up half an hour earlier each day so that I can take a long walk before work – being in a sedentary job, it’ts extremely difficult to rack up the 12,000 steps per day that is my goal most years.  But every four weeks or so, the GCC has a challenge weekend, during which teams try to get extra steps in order to earn trophies, and that is where my team comes into its own, because we do Excursions.

I’ve been a sorry excuse for a Team Captain this year, mostly because I’ve been a sorry excuse for a Catherine, with a cold that has been lingering for several weeks, leaving me disinclined to extra effort.  So I was a bit alarmed when I saw that a challenge weekend was approaching, as I had absolutely no notion of what to do this time around.  Fortunately for me, Facebook intervened, in the form of a post about a little family-owned milk bar in Fawkner – Jimmy’s Place –  which has recently risen from obscurity to extreme popularity through the sale of its Italian-style doughnuts.

Now, I find the very idea of this delightful.  Milkbars are a dying breed in Australia – the GST knocked out most of the ones in our area – and I miss the local shopping strip of my childhood.  And while the Inner Northern Suburbs are these days the habitat of the Greenie Lefty Hipster Yuppy (and I say this with love, because I share a number of these traits myself), Fawkner, being beyond the boundaries of Melbourne’s tram system, is far more working class.  Proudly so, in fact – Fawkner and the suburbs around it have been keeping Wills a safe Labor seat for decades, and will probably continue to do so for a good number of years yet.

Fawkner, in short, is not a trendy suburb.  It’s not posh.  It’s not cool. And yet, people are coming from all over Melbourne for these doughnuts.  This fills my Northern Suburbs heart with patriotic pride.  Go, Northern suburbs!

Also, go, doughnuts!

Also, go, doughnuts!

Anyway, I looked on the map, and Fawkner really is not all that far from my corner of the Kingdom of Greenie Lefty Hipster Yuppies, which is great news for personal doughnut consumption purposes, but less good news when one actually wants to get a lot of steps on one’s pedometer, and decided that going from home was way too easy, but if we walked up Sydney Rd from Parkville, then went down Harding Street and followed the Merri Creek Bike Path to Fawkner, that would be a comfortable 12km, an easy walk for my group. Continue reading

Return to Bundoora Farmers’ Market!

It’s been a couple of months since we visited a weekend farmers market (we’ve been quite diligent about going to the ones at Melbourne Uni, since they are so convenient to where we work, but the range of produce is much narrower there, and one doesn’t really want to be carrying bags and bags of veggies home on the tram), and in that time, the season has changed from summer to winter.

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Though, this being Melbourne, the red cabbage and Brussels sprouts at one stall were being blatantly upstaged by the eggplants, sweet corn and strawberries available at the stall across the way.  Apparently, these were grown in Wandin.  I was wondering if Wandin has a wormhole to the Northern hemisphere, but it’s probably just really good hydroponics and glasshouses…

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Recipe: Chickpea Meringues (Vegan! Gluten-Free! Eggless! Amazing!)

So, I think everyone on the internet is now aware that you can make meringues out of chickpea cooking water, right?  You take the water from a can of chickpeas, or just the water from cooking chickpeas from scratch, and then you add a pinch of cream of tartar and whip it like egg whites until it goes all soft-peakish.  Add sugar, and hey presto – you have a meringue!

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I read about this on Thursday and I am now OBSESSED with chickpea meringues.  So far, I have made one batch of meringues which didn’t work too well (I had the heat too high, and I don’t think I beat them long enough, and then I had to leave Andrew in charge of them when I went to choir, and he was overly cautious about making sure they had dried out, so they wound up burnt), one batch of chickpea macarons which looked fantastic until about halfway through the cooking process, when they collapsed in a hilarious mess, and one batch of absolutely perfect chickpea meringues.

The trick, it seems, is to remember that chickpea foam is weaker than egg-white foam – less protein, presumably – and so they need longer beating, longer to absorb the sugar, and a longer time under lower heat in the oven than their eggy relatives.  Which, I realise, might make chickpea meringue an excellent candidate for the Forgotten Pudding treatment.  In any case, I have a head full of experiments (Chickpea meringues made from the water leftover after cooking saffron chickpeas!  Chickpea souffle!  Actual successful macarons! Black bean meringues – will they turn out grey?  The possibilities are endless…), so you can expect to see a lot of chickpea-related recipes on this blog in the near future.

Vegan dessert platter, featuring chickpea meringues and salvaged, but not really successful, chickpea macarons

Vegan dessert platter, featuring chickpea meringues and salvaged, but not really successful, chickpea macarons

But let’s start with a fairly simple recipe, so that you, too, can make vegan meringues in the comfort of your own home…

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Recipe: Dark Chocolate Crackles That Crackle

I only discovered popping candy a couple of years ago, when I made the Masterchef Lolly Bag cake, and I have been looking for it in the shops ever since, because it is my new favourite thing.  Well, around about Easter, I discovered that not only was it available at Woollies, but their particular variety was super popping.  As in, I washed my hands after putting popping candy in something, and the sink crackled and cackled for about five minutes after I stopped running the water.  Awesome.

Of course, the first thing one must decide is what to put one’s popping candy in, but to me this was easy.  I mean, chocolate crackles are all well and good, especially if you take my approach and fill them with as much dark chocolate as they can hold, but their name is rather misleading, don’t you think?  Chocolate crackles are chocolatey, certainly, and they are crunchy, too, but they hardly crackle.

Well, they do when you put popping candy in them.  Boy, do they.  For best results, I recommend not telling people in advance about the popping candy, either.  (Even if one does tell people, the look on the faces of those who have never had popping candy before is quite priceless.)

This would have been my Eurovision dessert this year if I hadn’t gone all classy and stuck with proper Austrian food (Cross-Dressing Ken didn’t even make an appearance this year – I was too tired from work on the Friday, I was at a class on chou pastry on the Saturday, and I was not up for making a Cross-Dressing Ken cake that would be ready for our 5 am festivities when we got up early to vote.  Fortunately, Conchita was so fabulous that Ken was not much missed.).  It just screams Eurovision.  Though for best results, these crackles probably deserve just a little bit of edible glitter on top…

This recipe is super-easy, as befits a chocolate crackle recipe.  It makes about 16 quite decadent and rich chocolate crackles suitable for grownups – I use really dark chocolate and glacé ginger, so I’m not sure how child-friendly these crackles would be.  But you could always use popping candy in an ordinary crackle recipe if you wanted…

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Your shopping list

200 g dark chocolate (I like Lindt 70%)
75 g crystallised ginger
30 ml pistachio or almond butter
3 cups (750 ml) rice bubbles or their gluten-free equivalent
50 ml popping candy

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Recipe: Turkish Delight Gateau

I know, I know.  I said I was going to write about carrot cake and crackling chocolate crackles.  But then I realised it was my choir friend’s birthday, and because I am on holiday, I actually had time to make a cake!  And I had this beautiful recipe for a turkish delight layer cake, with rose-flavoured cake in pink and white layers with rose flavoured cream in the middle, very simple, very lovely.

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But then I thought, that’s going to be rather sweet, isn’t it?  So I decided to make the pink cake rose, like the recipe suggested, but make the second cake pistachio.  Which also makes it green, definitely a bonus.  And then I thought – wait, whipped cream, in a four layer cake that has to travel for half an hour on public transport or, best case scenario, in a car.  Hmm.  Probably not a structurally sound idea…

So I decided to make a white chocolate and rose water mousse on a crème anglaise base instead.  Because that is a totally rational thing to do.

After all, rational is what gets you the best cake result, don’t you think?

And this is an excellent cake result.  It’s almost, but not quite, too sweet, with layers of rose and pistachio and mousse.  The white chocolate is subtle, and somewhere along the way the mousse acquired a hint of cardamom.  I have no idea how this happened, because I didn’t actually use any cardamom.  I can only assume that the mousse knew that cardamom was required, and thus it created some through kitchen magic.

(Incidentally, I did an absolutely shocking job on the sponge cakes, mostly because I was too lazy to follow the recipe properly, but the nice thing about a layer cake like this is that nobody can tell because it’s all covered in happy happy rose and white chocolate mousse.  Which is another win-win situation, really.  So don’t be intimidated by this recipe.  But maybe do try following it a little bit.)

Hooray for kitchen magic!

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Return to blogging, what I have been doing, and some brief reviews

Way back last December, I sat down at work and wrote a list, month by month, of all the tasks I needed to complete at work between January and May.  And then I went home and told Andrew that the first five months of this year were going to be hell and I had no idea how I was going to survive them.

Oh, and that was before every church I’ve ever sung with decided to hire me to sing on various Sundays, before I was asked to be part of a (paid) concert of opera classics in May, before I discovered a very old friend would be visiting Brisbane in March and so I needed to squeeze in an interstate trip somehow, and before I decided that I really wanted to perform all the alto solos from the Mattäus-Passion during Lent.  I don’t regret that last one, incidentally, so I’m willing to take the fall for it.

Well, I did survive, and astonishingly, I’m also the only person I know who didn’t get the laryngitis-death-plague sometime between March and May.  I also managed to cook reasonably well most of the time, though there were a couple of weeks where takeaway ended up on the menu two or even three times.

Of course, there was a cost to all of this, and part of that cost was that I completely let go of my blogging for several months.  I even missed my blog birthday on May 11th – I believe that was the day we finally got the Program Grant into the Grants Office, which was certainly a moment of celebration, but not of the bloggable variety.  I haven’t been to a farmers’ market on a weekend since about February.  And, while I did manage to have my usual Eurovision festivities – with a bonus 5am Sunday morning Eurovision party, full of overnight cooked breakfast items – Cross Dressing Ken was unable to attend because I just didn’t have the time or energy to make him a new dress.  Fortunately, Conchita was so fabulous that Ken’s presence was not truly necessary.  Oh, and I also managed to get sick every single Saturday for the last month or so, before recovering miraculously just in time to sing every Sunday morning.

So that’s what I’ve been doing.  I’m hoping to get back to blogging some proper recipes soon – I have a great chocolate carrot cake, and crackling chocolate crackles that I want to write about, along with one of my overnight breakfast recipes – but at the moment I’m really catching up on sleep more than anything else.

But just to get this blog back to something food related, three brief reviews of ways I’ve avoided living on takeaway food recently…

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Recipe: Slow Cooker Lamb Shoulder with Lemon and Garlic

As is my custom, I went vegetarian for Lent this year.  Then, at the end of Lent, Simply Free Range had this special on a lamb roast pack and I got a little bit overexcited and also apparently failed to read just how many joints of meat I was actually getting in this pack, and since then we have been positively swimming in lamb roasts of various kinds (actually, after the first week of this lamb-fest, during which I invited over just about everyone I could think of to share in the lamb-ish bounty, I did a freezer clean-out, and moved the rest of the joints to the fridge, where they now sit.  Waiting…).  Which is a bit bad, when you consider that Andrew doesn’t really like roast lamb.  Oops.

Still, he liked this one, and so did I, not least because it was magnificently easy and not at all roast like.  Essentially, you put your lamb in the slow cooker before work, with a few herbs and lemon and quite a bit of garlic to help it along, and leave it there all day.  (Don’t forget to switch the cooker on before you go…) When you come home, you take out the lamb and it just falls apart.  I quite literally served it on a big dish and gave everyone forks – no carving required, everyone could just pull off what they needed.  Amazing.  The garlic, meanwhile, has basically melted, and can be spread all over the lamb like a sauce.  It’s pretty much an advertisement for what a slow cooker can do for you. Completely fabulous.

Your Shopping list:

1 boned and rolled lamb shoulder
2 onions
2 potatoes (optional)
4 sprigs rosemary
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp olive oil
juice of three lemons
1/2 cup white wine
salt, pepper
1 bulb garlic Continue reading

Return to the Farmers’ Markets (and, hopefully, to blogging)

Well, that was a longer break than I expected it to be.  I’d like to thank the NHMRC’s insane grants schedule, Easter, and the cyst on my wrist for providing the synergy of silly working hours, non-existent weekends, pain, and general exhaustion that led to the blogging hiatus… hopefully, things will start to calm down soon, and you will see more of me here.

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To be honest, I haven’t even been doing much new cooking – these busy months are when I revisit old favourites and am quietly thankful for a fairly good repertoire of simple recipes in my head, and a large array of take-away options in my suburb.

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To read my blog this year, you might think that I’ve abandoned the Farmers’ Markets.  This is truer than I might wish (those aforementioned missing weekends have rather curbed my enthusiasm for marketing early on Saturday mornings), but fortunately not entirely true.  The good news in my marketing life has been that the Victorian Farmers Market Association recently began running a lunchtime market at Melbourne University on a Wednesday.  This is conveniently close to where I work, and also conveniently not early in the morning, and Andrew (who is also currently working in the vicinity) and I have become regulars at its stalls.  While the variety of fresh produce is not as impressive as at the weekend markets (they are still building their stable of stallholders), it has been a fine way to get *some* proper, farmer-friendly vegetables into our weekly shop, and it’s also a highly enjoyable way to spend a lunchbreak… and it’s always fun playing ‘spot the WEHI person’ as I wander around the market…

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Still, between my Wednesday indulgences and my weekend madness, it has been over a month since I last visited one of the weekend markets.  I was therefore pretty determined to get to the Flemington Farmers’ Market today, even though choir meant that my visit would be relatively brief… Continue reading

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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Your Shopping List

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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