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.

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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.

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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

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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