Category Archives: Special occasions

Recipe: Fierce Strawberries (and tentacle cake)

A while back, one of my Professors welcomed me back from long service leave with a copy of Deceptive Desserts: A Lady’s Guide to Baking Bad, by Christine McConnell.  I was particularly taken by her recipe for Screamberries, and my brother and I originally had evil plans to make this as a birthday cake for Elisabeth’s first birthday (just think of the photos!), but for some reason (possibly because my mother was appalled?) we decided to make the orange and banana cakes instead.

Well, this year, what with one thing and another, it became practical to have my brother’s birthday party and my niece’s both on the same day.  Obviously, this necessitated two cakes, and when I asked my brother what he wanted for this cake, the answer was ‘tentacles’.

So that was easy, then.

I made a few modifications to McConnell’s recipe.  Vanilla mousse seemed boring, so I filled the waffle cups half with vegan chocolate mousse and half with berry mousse.  Stabilised whipped cream seemed like way too much like hard work for a relatively small result, so I didn’t do that.  And my first batch of waffle cones weren’t great, so I had to make another double batch in the hour between getting back from cantoring in Middle Park and leaving for birthday shenanigans in Canterbury.  So I signally failed to follow the instructions and just dumped everything in together.  I can’t claim that they were brilliant waffle cups, but they were fresh and they did the job.

And really, who cared about the waffle cups?  The mousse was delicious, and really, we were all here for the strawberries and the tentacles, right?

Incidentally, you can make this recipe in advance and take the components in separate boxes to wherever you are going, at which point it takes about ten minutes to put together.

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Show Off Post: Hamlet!

Squeezing in one last post before I go, in between madly writing about tiny political parties and finishing my last Paris story before I actually go there…

As I think I mentioned earlier, I recently turned 40, and also Shakespeare recently turned 400 years of deceased, and since these events were a mere week apart, I thought I would take the opportunity to get our reading group together again after a long hiatus and read the last Shakespeare play left to us – Hamlet!

I apologise in advance for these photos – the timing meant that we did our reading in the late afternoon / early evening, and so the light was not auspicious for recording all the food.  But I do want to keep some record of the event, so here goes…

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Brief update, with Eurovision and Blogiversary

Hello!  I’m not really back, but since Eurovision was this morning (so early this morning), and Eurovision has always counted as a Food Blog Anniversary for me, it seemed timely to give you an update.

I’m actually feeling a lot less depressed about cooking since I last wrote here.  This is mostly because my wrist is behaving a lot better, and baking is more feasible.  But I’m still run off my feet – I’m heading to Europe in nine days, and an Election has been called for three days after I get back, so I’m currently trying to madly update my politics blog before I go, with profiles of all the new parties.  And after that, I’ll be overseas, so realistically, you aren’t likely to hear a lot from me before July.  I’ll see how I’m feeling about regular blog posts then – it’s actually rather relaxing to cook without photographing everything and writing it down…

I do plan one more update between now and then, because we finally finished the Shakespeare project on April 23rd (the 400th anniversary of his death), which means I have cooked up my last Shakespeare feast, at least for the foreseeable future, and this must be recorded for posterity.

But this is Eurovision Sunday, so it’s time for a brief Eurovision post – along with a photograph or two of The Eurovision Biscuits That Took All Day.

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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…)

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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:

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Your shopping list

500 g dried nectarines
750 ml white muscat Continue reading

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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The Statutory New Year’s Eve Post

Well, 2014 certainly got away from me.  There’s no doubt about that.  Not that it wasn’t an excellent year in many respects, but I certainly felt as though I was holding it by the tail of its shirt and running along trying to keep up.

There were definitely highlights.  Travelling to Europe was amazing, as well it might be, and it also had both its culinary highlights and culinary lowlights.  The passionfruit and mango caramels at Jacques Genin remain one of the most beautiful things I have ever put in my mouth.  The sour cream porridge at Ersgard… well, let’s call that one an acquired taste and move on.

I loved doing the Live Below the Line challenge in May, both because of the opportunity to reflect on the challenges of food poverty and because it was actually quite reassuring to see how far I’ve come since I last lived with food insecurity.  I never, ever want to find myself in that place again – but it was nice to realise that my food-related survival skills are actually pretty good these days.  I don’t think I – or anyone – could truly live healthily on such a tiny budget for long, but I could certainly do a better job than my student-self managed!

I discovered some truly amazing cookbooks this year, including my favourite cake cookbook of all time, and I think I fed the entire floor – as well as the electoral office where Andrew worked – with Herman the German cakes for about a month back in November.  Herman has now finished his time in my kitchen, but his many offspring live on in the homes of numerous friends and colleagues.  Apparently, my constant neglect of Herman provided some pretty intense natural selection for vigorous and hardy strains, and his tendency to escape and rampage across kitchen benches alarmed several of my friends.  He has even survived a conversion to a vegan, gluten-free diet, which suggests a decidedly strong constitution.

Looking back at my New Year’s Aspirations from last year… well, they were lovely, but it’s a good thing they weren’t resolutions, because I really didn’t get very far with them.  Work, politics, travel, and, pleasingly, quite a bit of singing work rather got in the way.  Still, they are nice things to aspire to, so I’m going to put them out there again, and hope for the best for 2015!

  • Resurrect the Vegetarian Food Challenge.  Starting tomorrow! (And if anyone has an itch to run this challenge for me one month, please, comment below and we will talk.  I am evidently not capable of running twelve of these in a year…)
  • Participate in at least one food blog challenge a month.  I like meeting fellow food bloggers!
  • Plan and eat vegan meals more often.  I have huge numbers of these recipes – why do I never do anything with them?
  • Actually invite my fellow food bloggers to hang out and do food stuff.  This shouldn’t be scary.  Why is it scary?  (Why are people scary?  Who knows?)
  • The aspiration that dares not speak its name.  Still too big and exciting to even admit to thinking about publicly yet, because I don’t know if I can do it.  Especially while running eight events at work and having a wrist operation at some point in addition to all my regular commitments.  But I shall not forget it, for all that!

To this I think I will also add:

  • Re-do the pantry challenge.  My pantry is getting entirely out of hand again, and must be tamed.
  • Do the Live Below the Line Challenge, or another food justice related challenge next year.

But they are still only aspirations and not resolutions, so if I don’t manage to do all of them every time, it’s OK.  Really.

Once again, I’m going to make a gallery for 2014 showing two favourite recipes for each month – one of mine, and one from another blog.  While I’ve been awfully quiet and antisocial on other blogs this year, I always love reading what people are up to, and what fascinating recipes they’ve come up with (or how often they have eaten at Smith and Daughters recently, not looking at anyone, Cindy and Michael…) (Actually, that was another highlight for the year – if you like Latin-American inspired food and haven’t been to Smith and Daughters yet, you certainly should.  It’s one of my favourite places to go in Melbourne.).

I hope you will, too.  And I hope that 2015 brings you everything you most wish for.

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Shakespeare Feast: As you Like It

Hooray!  We finally returned to the land of Shakespeare!  And what a fine, strange, land it is! As You Like It is definitely one of Shakespeare’s sillier comedies, which I attribute to the fact that he was doing his level best to turn it into an opera or a musical – never your most sensible of genres.  Think Twelfth Night on crack.  With even more songs.

So you have Rosalind – played by a boy – dressing as a boy with the suggestive name of Ganymede – and playing the part of a girl – of Rosalind, in fact – in order to ‘cure’ her suitor of his infatuation with  – Rosalind.

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Travel Diary: Darwin Part 2: Makeovers and Weddings…

When we left our intrepid heroine, she was still exploring the wonders and perils of Darwin.  Will she be eaten by crocodiles?  Will she break her leg again?  And, most importantly, will her hotel have hot water…?

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Recipe: Fruit Mince Filo Cigars

Last weekend, I was invited to a Yule celebration at the home of one of my friends from work.  It was an amazingly fun evening (I think I could become addicted to the werewolf card game, even though I’m fairly terrible at it), and also notable for the incredible quantities of potatoes and cream that found their way onto the menu.  This is, perhaps, inevitable when the host and half the guests are French, and are, moreover, from places like Normandy and Burgundy, where potatoes and dairy products are pretty big stuff.  (I am informed that they do not believe in vegetables in these regions.  Other than potatoes.)

So we had roast lamb, and we had roast potatoes, and roast sweet potatoes, and we had pommes dauphines and we had gratin dauphinoise. And there was quiche, too.  I decided that *some* sort of non-potato vegetable wouldn’t go astray, so my offering was ratatouille.  (Which, actually, I was a bit nervous about actually calling ratatouille in front of a group of French people, as I have no idea what an authentic ratatouille is like, but apparently it was acceptable).

For dessert, since we clearly had not had enough cream yet, there were crèmes brulées (we got to blow-torch our brulées at the table, which instantly elevates this dinner party to the best one I have ever attended.  Also, possibly, the most dangerous one, since the blow-torch came out after the second glass of wine for most people at the table, and when you consider that many of the guests have a tendency to gesture a lot with their hands, you will understand why this was a little alarming…), and also waffles with nuttella and whipped cream.  I had considered once again taking the high path and bringing something with actual fruit in it, but the whole Yule / Christmas in Winter spirit overwhelmed me, and it was absolutely necessary to bring something involving spices, brandy and fruit mince.

Which is when I thought of these little cigars.

I actually made these for the first time after Christmas last year, when I realised I had a bit of fruit mince leftover from my mince pies, and also some filo pastry leftover from turning my Christmas chook into handheld chicken and pumpkin filo pies, and decided to combine the two.

They were amazing – astonishingly rich on the inside, but with a lovely, light, crisp pastry that made them a delight to bite into.  Also, they are surprisingly easy to make, which is a bonus.  And fantastic when dipped in double cream.  Which is not vegan, but a good cashew cream might actually be even better.

Of course, I had no idea what proportions of anything I’d used, so I figured I’d save the recipe until I had a bit more time.  Which was why I was half an hour late to the dinner party – it turned out that I didn’t, really, have that much time after all…

It was still worth it, though.  And after all those potatoes, a dessert that was low on the whole pastry/cake/pudding side of things and high on the rich, dried fruit side of things wasn’t a bad match at all.

(Though I suspect a fruit salad, while less Christmassy, would have been even better…)

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1 quantity of Easy Fruit Mince, made with cocoa butter instead of butter for vegan goodness.
1 handful each of dried cherries, chopped dried apricots, and chopped dried figs.

1 packet of filo pastry from the fridge section.  Please, not the freezer section.  I cannot stress this highly enough.  If you buy your filo pastry from the fridge, it will come out as lovely, soft, fine, layers of pastry, like fabric that roll like a dream.  If you buy it from the freezer and defrost it, it will come out like paper.  Old, crackling, crumbling paper.  And it will stick to itself and it will break when you try to unroll it and then you will end up with little flakes of pastry everywhere and nothing to roll your fruit mince in, and you will be very sad and you will wish you had taken my advice.  Which is good advice.  Seriously, get your filo from the fridge, or don’t bother.  I don’t want you to be sad, and I’m sure you don’t want that either.
Olive oil spray

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Anyone Can Cook Fabulous Vegetarian Food: Vegan Christmas in July

Oh, I am excited about this one.   So excited that I am bringing this allegedly monthly challenge back from yet another hiatus when Life got the better of me.  I know it’s not quite July yet, but let’s face it – the wintry weather has set in.

We don’t really have holly in Melbourne, but if we did, it would have berries on it.  And while it isn’t snowing here, I understand they are having a pretty good ski season up in the Victorian Alps.  Meanwhile, we have the wind wuthering around our house, the weather is cold and dark, and when one goes out in it, it rains.  Sideways.

This may not sound appealing to you, but I actually love Melbourne winters.  Partly, it’s perversity – nobody else seems to love this weather, so I do, wholeheartedly.  (In return, Melbourne very kindly gives me good weather for any events I hold outside, even if the weather has been utterly unpromising up until that point.  We have a very good relationship, Melbourne and I.)

But mostly, it’s because this is such fantastic baking weather. Continue reading