Saturday, 31 January 2009

Hot weather, hopeful politics and summer food

It is a blissfully cool 31 C today and it is such welcome relief after the heatwave of the past few days. Wednesday was 43, Thursday was 44 and yesterday was 45. I think it is the first recorded three days in a row over 43 C (in Melbourne). There are some records that shouldn’t be broken! It was the sort of weather that seemed to drain you within seconds of stepping outside. Dry gasping throat, no energy and limited good humour.

Our plants are sunburnt and shrivelled, Zinc is a little pool of cat on the rug, I dug out the little fan for the bedroom and have been shoving handfuls of ice into my drinks. The best discovery has been putting the wheat pack (which warms us in winter) into the freezer.

But we shouldn’t really grumble too much. Others have had it much worse than us. About 750 out of 2000 trains in Melbourne were cancelled yesterday (which makes yesterday's offer of free public transport quite amusing), taxis were busy and alternative buses weren’t available in some areas (we are lucky enough to live on a tramline as well as a trainline). Hundreds of thousands of homes had their power cut but we were spared the ordeal of no fridge and no air conditioning in the heat. And then there were those in the country facing bushfires, in some towns with no water supply.

One thing I have always loved about Melbourne’s weather is the lack of consistency. If it is hot, we usually know that a cool change is on the way. Not this week. Three days of such weather is relentless. It makes the two days at 35 and 40 the previous week seem positively pleasant. I haven’t cooked much this week but it seems a good time to share some summery recipes from the previous week. They are recipes I had planned to make some weeks ago til the cooler weather had stifled my inspiration.

When I think hot weather, I think Asian food, salads and fresh fruit. And that is precisely what I served a couple of weeks back. I had found a recipe for Tofu and Lemongrass Nuggets that took my fancy. Seemed to be just the thing to serve with the Raw Mock Fried Rice Salad which I have been wanting to try since Ricki posted it a few weeks back.

The tofu nuggets didn’t taste as strong as I had expected for all the flavouring but they are to be served with a chilli sauce which was so excellent that it didn’t matter. I don’t do lots of frying and my nuggets were a little charred, unlike the golden jewels in the photo. Possibly as a result of not putting in enough oil, or having the frypan too hot. They still tasted good on the first and second night.

I was exhausted by the time I finished making them. The book I took the recipe from is called 30 minute Vegetarian (by Joanne Farrow). But I am beginning to feel a bit cynical about this claim. Not only do the recipes take longer than 30 minutes, they also often need a side dish of some sort. Possibly you can blame my equipment or my preparation technique but if you sympathise, I suggest you read Kathryn’s recent post on quick meals which questions the wisdom of such claims. However, I do forgive Joanne Farrow because the recipes are so good.

Ricki’s salad was strangely pleasing. The raw cauliflower really did look like rice when finely blended and the flavourings were good. I added more vegies than she did and halved the recipe. It still made a lot of salad that lasted a few nights and made a substantial flavoursome side dish.

I also admit that I sat down to have a rest in the middle of cooking while I watched the news. It was the week of the Obama inauguration so I had to keep my eye on events from afar, even if I wasn’t up at 3am on Wednesday morning to watch the proceedings live. My impressions were of people in large winter coats and scarves – which seems odd on a scorching hot day – and of the charming smile of the man who has commandeered so much expectation. Such a great moment to see him step into the role of USA president but what challenges he faces!

I hope he might have the strength to stand up to human rights violations and help those suffering financial hardship. We are asking a lot of one man. Even with the best will in the world, to make real change while part of the political system seems a huge challenge. Our world seems doomed to incremental change. But for all my concerns, I believe that he will act with more intelligence and compassion than Dubya.

Meanwhile, our humble lives go on. After the news I finished making dinner and we took it outside where it was cooler. Unfortunately with balmy summer evenings comes the mozzies who joined in the feasting. So we didn’t stay outside too long. On the second night, I had energy to make the fruit salad that I had planned to have the first night. It all tasted very very good!

Tofu and Lemongrass Nuggets with Chilli Sauce
(adapted from Joanne Farrow)
serves 4

6 spring onions
5cm/2 inch piece of ginger, finely grated
2 lemongrass stalks, trimmed and finely sliced
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
small handful of coriander
1 tsp agave syrup
2 tbsp soy sauce (or ketjap manis)
350g tofu, roughly chopped
¾ cup dried breadcrumbs
1 egg
Flour for making patties
Oil for shallow frying

Chilli dipping sauce:
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
½ tsp chilli paste

Place spring onions, ginger, lemongrass, garlic, coriander in food processor and blend til chopped but still chunky. Add agave, soy sauce, tofu, breadcrumbs and blend til combined (which took me a while in my small food processor). Check seasoning and adjust as necessary. Take dessertspoons of mixture and shape into flattish patties using floured hands. Shallow fry a few minutes on each side in about 2 mm of oil till golden on each side. To make dipping sauce, mix all ingredients together. Serve nuggets with dipping sauce.

'Raw' Mock Fried Rice (Cauli Salad)
(adapted from Diet, Dessert and Dogs)
serves 6 as a substantial side dish

½ medium head cauliflower, trimmed and broken into florets
1 clove garlic, chopped
Juice and zest of ½ lime
1 tsp freshly grated ginger root
½ cup raw or toasted sunflower seeds
½ red pepper, diced
1 carrot grated
2 handfuls of mung bean sprouts (or green peas)
2 spring onions, chopped
1 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp tamari or soy sauce,

Place the cauliflower in the bowl of a food processor and process until crumbly and “rice-like.” (I needed to do it in a few different batches.) Empty into a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix well to combine. Serve slightly warm for the fried rice feel (although not technically a raw dish, but then neither are toasted sunflower seeds or cooked peas) or cold as salad.

On the stereo:
No Way Out: A Challenge of Honour

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Apricot History and a Chutney

When I was young I couldn’t get enough of apricots. Fresh juicy apricots just picked off the tree in my nan’s backyard. They were sweeter, softer and a deeper orange than the anaemic ones sold in supermarkets today, and often had a scattering of freckles. Stewed apricots in the Apricot Sponges and Apricot Pies that my mum made for dessert too rarely for me. I even loved Apricot Chicken, that classic 1970s dish of French onion soup mix, apricot nectar and chicken. In fact it was one of the first dishes I tried when moving out of home before becoming vegetarian.

It was a mystery to me why apples were so much more common when apricots tasted so much better. And why were sultanas so much more common than dried apricots? Now I understand that apricots are more fragile and have a short season. But I miss those juicy gems straight from the tree and find it hard to get excited about many of the ones in the shops.

My mum has encouraged me to make stewed apricots to make them last longer but I am not confident at preserving. But I did decide to make hay while the sun shone and I made some apricot chutney a few weeks back. A good opportunity to find out about the history of apricots.

It is a story of travel and (I imagine) heavenly discovery as they found their way around the world. Apricots were first cultivated in China, probably about 4000 years ago. They were brought to Middle East by Chinese silk traders and later introduced to Southern Europe by Alexander the Great - in the 4th century BC. Romans began cultivating apricots about 100 BC. By the 16th century, apricots were successfully cultivated throughout the Northern Europe. King Henry VIII's gardener brought the apricot to England from Italy in 1542. The Spanish took apricots to the New World, first to Mexico and then to the Californian missions. I couldn't find a mention of them coming to Australia but I can tell you that apricots grow wonderfully here too.

The word apricot comes from the Latin praecocia meaning "precocious" or "early ripening." It first appeared in English print in 1551 and gives a clue as to the apricot’s scarcity and preciousness. Make the most of early apricots in summer at the markets which are soft and sweet.

If you need to hear how good they taste, then just listen to some of the historical descriptions of apricots. Ancient Greeks called them "the golden eggs of the sun". The term "nectar of the gods" referred to the juice and pulp of the apricot which was reputedly the drink of choice of the Greek and Roman gods. In Eastern countries, the apricot is known as "moon of the faithful," and the ancient Persians referred to the apricot as "egg of the sun." (and amusingly I found a reference to the ‘Irish apricots’ which means potatoes)

Jane Grigson lusts after apricots from Peking or Armenia or the Hunza Valley where myths have arisen of people living to 150 years, fathering children at 110 and bearing them at 60. Elsewhere I read of beliefs that apricots would have a good influence on the fertility of women. It is also said that the Chinese associate the apricot with education and medicine.

Not everyone loves apricots. Apparently apricots are taboo among American tank-driving soldiers. Tankers will not eat apricots, allow apricots onto their vehicles, and often will not even say the word "apricot". This superstition stems from Sherman tank breakdowns purportedly happening in the presence of cans of apricots.

It took some searching to find how apricots permeate our cultural consciousness. But once I started I had to stop myself getting carried away with references. Here are just a few:
- Jokes: Q.Where does a baby monkey sleep? A. In an apricot
- Silly quips: whenever I said to my mum ‘guess what?’ she would say ‘you’re a great big apricot’)
- In the Wizard of Oz when the cowardly lion sings "What puts the ape in the apricot? Courage!"
- I owned (but never read) a book called Apricots on the Nile: a Memoir with Recipes by Colette Rossant which is about life in Egypt.
- The "Golden Apricot" Annual Film Festival in Yerevan (the capital of Armenia)!
- The Grateful Dead's Bob Weir, among others, was in a mockumentary called Electric Apricot: the Quest for Festeroo.
- Australian author, Marion Halligan wrote a novel called The Apricot Colonel.

It seems apricot recipes are predominately used in their dried form, which makes recipes with fresh apricots even more special. Although they can be substituted for other stone fruit such a peaches and plums in other recipes. I checked some of my older Australian cookbooks and was interested to see that there are very few recipes for apricots in the PMWU cookbook (1955) and the Green and Gold Cookbook (c 1940s) but there are quite a few in the Australian Cookery of Today (c1950s). But again, most recipes are for dried apricots and not nearly as many as for apples.

When I checked my blog there were a few recipes for fresh apricots. I have successfully baked them in muffins and blended them in a smoothie. But the best smoothie I have made with apricots recently didn’t get blogged so I will just mention it here – 4 apricots, 5 strawberries, 5 blackberries and fruit juice. I have also tried apricots in fruit salads recently with pleasing results. I have seen a few interesting recipes for fresh apricots in cakes, cobblers and flans.

When I sought an apricot chutney recipe on the web, most required dried apricots but I found an Australian recipe that came from someone’s grandmother. I reduced the sugar and made some personal changes to the spices. My main concern was that there was too much vinegar once I reduced the sugar. It seemed like there was a lot of liquid while it cooked. I was worried there is an ideal ratio of sugar to vinegar that I upset.

The end result is that it is more like jam with more fluidity than the chunkiness I associate with chutneys. However I have been eating this chutney quite regularly and think maybe the vinegar is fine as I really enjoy it and am happy that it is not too sweet. It tastes excellent with cheese on toast or can be used to accompany nut roasts, veg sausages or other meals. See photo of sausages and salad with a generous dollop of chutney. (A perfect meal for a day when it is 41 C - like today.)

- Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book

I am sending this post to Marija from Palachinka for Weekend Herb Blogging #168, the weekly event founded by Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen and now hosted by Haalo of Cook (Almost) Anything at Least Once.

Apricot Chutney
Adapted from Sally Wise on ABC Tasmania

1.5 kg (3lb) apricots, stones removed, then chopped*
2 red onions, finely chopped
500ml (2 cups) vinegar (or less)
1 cup of raw sugar
1 tablespoon ginger, finely grated
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
½ tsp curry powder

* Peaches, nectarines and rhubarb can be used in place of apricots. The rhubarb chutney needs to sit for 2 months before using.

Combine all the ingredients and boil 1 hour. Bottle and seal. Makes about 4 medium sized jars.

NB: I found bottling instructions at The Daily Green which advised sterilizing jars in boiling water for 10-15 minutes. Chutney should be ladled or spooned into hot jars and sealed straight away.

On the stereo:
The music from the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Films: Peer Raben

Monday, 26 January 2009

Birthday chocolate cake and crazy computers

You might be forgiven for thinking I have photographed this flourless cake with a hen because it has a lot of eggs in it. That is not unusual for rich flourless chocolate cakes. But it is because I made this cake for my mum’s birthday a couple of weekends ago and she loves chickens.

This particular one was a birthday present which will go up on her overmantle in the kitchen to accompany the other decorative hens she have collected. She has hopes that one day she will have some live hens in a chook run again. Until then she loves her brood above the wood stove.

When I told my mum I would bring a cake for her birthday lunch, I said unless she had any special requests I would make a chocolate one. She seemed happy with that but once I got off the phone I suddenly wondered if I should be making a cake for the dieters or the celiacs in the family. Catering to both seemed a bit difficult. In the end, I settled for a decadent gluten free cake.

Searching my flourless cake recipes, I was surprised to find that I had not posted a flourless almond cake and thought it was time to make amends with a recipe from the ever-reliable Jill Dupleix. I think I found the recipe in a newspaper many years ago at the time when flourless chocolate cakes were still a bit exotic and gluten free diets were unheard of in my world. It appealed because it wasn’t huge and full of lots of eggs. One other similar recipe had 10-14 eggs in it which seems excessive to me.

It also amused me that Jill D called it Breakfast Chocolate Cake, presumably because she enjoys leftovers for breakfast. I reluctantly renamed it to remember which cake it is.This is an easy rich cake that will appeal widely. A small piece goes a long way so it will please a crowd, or still be around for breakfast.

I was glad to have chosen the gluten free option when my gluten free niece watched the eating of the Bombe Alaska that my mum had bravely made. (I never thought I would like it and wasn’t too keen on the meringue outer layer but loved the pannetone and raspberry icecream layers inside.)

Meanwhile, back home, I am building up a little backlog of posts, as I haven’t had lots of energy for blogging and now computer troubles have complicated the situation. Last week our internet connection was so bad that we couldn’t use it. At the end of the week, we got someone to look at it and they managed to fix the internet connection and crash my computer at the same time. The best he could do was open it in safe mode so I could copy files off it. Grrrr!

We have been talking about me getting a new computer as mine has been slower lately but I didn’t expect to have to do it so quickly, and not in the same week I bought a new camera that I had to adjust to. I bought a new laptop yesterday but decided to change from a PC to a Mac. My first computer was a Mac. E’s computer is a Mac. So I am not totally unfamiliar with them. Yet I am seeking new ways to do everything I have taken for granted. I was unprepared for how very slow and frustrating it would be.

Right now, it feels that if this post gets up on my blog, it will be a huge achievement. Formatting and adding photos are driving me crazy! I hope that soon, I will be more comfortable with this new computer and new way of thinking, but if I am a little slow and clumsy at the moment, you know why!

Jill Dupleix’s Flourless Chocolate Cake

200g good dark chocolate, broken up
1 tbsp brandy, cognac or other liqueur (I used whiskey)
1 tsp ground wattleseed (or coffee)
100g butter
100g caster sugar
100g ground almonds (I used a bit more)
3 eggs, separated

Preheat oven to 160 C. Grease and line an 18cm round cake tin (or if you don’t have one, a 20cm round cake tin will be fine, that is what I used).

In a large microwave proof bowl, melt chocolate, liqueur, wattleseed and butter. Stir in sugar, almonds and egg yolks. Beat egg whites til stiff peaks form. Stir a spoonful into chocolate mixture to lighten it. Fold remainder of egg whites in with a metal spoon. Spoon cake mixture into prepared tin.

Bake for 45 minutes. Cool in tin. (I think I cooled mine for about 4 hours.) Turn out and serve. If desired sprinkle with icing sugar, and accompany with cream and berries. But this is good just by itself.

On the stereo:
Eisiges Licht 2: Various Artists

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Beat the heat with fruit salad

It is hot, I am tired and our internet connection at home has been down all week. So blogging has been slow with just managing to catch a bit of time at lunchtime at work. I also have a new camera which should be a good thing in the long run but we are still getting to know each other right now.

So I thought that I would quickly post on one of my joys this summer – fruit salads! This one was made this week when it was 41 C and it tasted so good. Hot weather makes me crave fresh fruit and we are truly spoilt in Melbourne. The raspberries were a bit tart but I love them. However I think other berries would be good in this little bowl of happiness. And now back to work!

Pine-Berry Fruit Salad
serves 4

½ pineapple, trimmed and cut into chunks
125g raspberries (or other berries)
Handful of cherries, pitted
Handful of red grapes
Juice of ½ an orange
1 tsp honey (or agave nectar)

Mix and enjoy!

Update 4/2/09 - will not blog my latest fruit salad but am recording it so I remember - even better than this one - ½ pineapple, 1 nectarine, 1 kiwi fruit, 1 passionfruit - chopped and mixed up - serves about 2 -3 people. - delish!

On the stereo:
Roaring Days: Weddings, Parties, Anything

Baba - full of eastern promise

My mum and I had heard good things about the Middle Eastern food at Baba in East Brunswick and made a booking a couple of weeks back to go there with E and my dad. When we arrived at 7pm, it was mostly empty but the tables around us filled with a friendly buzz over the evening. It is a bit of a TARDIS with a small unassuming frontage on the street and a huge dining area inside with a swirling painting on the wall. I always admire a place which can use seating and partitions to break up a large space so it doesn’t feel like a barn.

I can’t share many photos because I forgot my camera and we were reduced to using my dad’s camera on his phone which does a nice job but is not used to taking food photography (ie my dad hasn’t had to discover how to turn off the flash or turn on the close up button – but I am sure he will be studying his phone manual for the next food photo opportunity – right, dad?).

Our waitresses brought us menus which were sandwiched between old record covers. They made a great talking point as we reminisced about which albums we remembered. The menu was made up of mezze (small plates), Turkish pizzas and claypots, plus the obligatory desserts. There were lots of vegetarian options to choose from which made me glad there were four of us so we could share more dishes.

The service was a bit patchy which worked to E’s advantage with the drinks. He ordered a beer which took so long to come that he was able to change his mind and his order to try some Raki, which he thought a more traditional drink. It was a cloudy white drink which was much stronger than any of us would usually touch (45% alcohol) and tasted of aniseed. He enjoyed it but didn’t finish it.

We started with a cleverly named My Wife’s Chickpea Smash. It was a delicious dip of chickpeas, coriander and chilli, served with lots of soft pide and pitta bread. We welcomed the waitress’s readiness to bring more bread when we finished the first serve of it.

Next we had a spread of mezze plates. My favourite was the carrot and saganaki fritters which had a crunchy crumbed crust and were pleasingly soft and salty inside – and served with a light yoghurt sauce. A small bowl of spicy roast pumpkin salad came topped with sprouts and inside was the surprise of crunchy croutons among the soft vegetable. The pilaf was very lightly flavoured but it had some nuts and currants to give a bit of texture, and was a nice accompaniment to the more flavoursome dishes. And there was a calamari dish that I took very little notice of. These dishes were more filling than they looked.

E and I each chose a Turkish pizza. When they came they were a lot smaller than I expected. The bases were quite thin and crispy and couldn’t support a lot of topping. I didn’t touch E’s pizza with tiny kofta lamb balls and a green coriander sauce but it did look pretty. He said it was his favourite dish of the night. Mine had pumpkin, dates, walnuts, fetta and purple radish sprouts. It was nice but not great. I prefer more generosity with pizza toppings and am not sure I liked the sweetness of the dates.

Lastly we sampled three desserts between us. My mum and dad had a rhubarb and rose petal pannacotta with rhubarb and pomegranate jelly. While they enjoyed it, milky pannacotta and jelly will never impress me. I ordered the cinnamon sugared donuts which came drizzled in a honey and thyme syrup. The bowl of small fried donuts was generous but they were a little sweet and soggy for my liking. E chose the pick of the crop with his order of Turkish delight gelato. It was stylishly served in a cone with a lump of Turkish delight and a cloud of Persian fairy floss on top. While I couldn’t have eaten the whole thing, I did find the rosewater flavoured gelato quite moreish. My dad and E then finished the meal off with some thick sweet Turkish coffee.

While not every dish was to my liking, I would go back as I really enjoyed my meal and found the ambience to be friendly and chic (although what was with the dudes in the red berets?). We also thought that $99 for 4 people was very reasonable for a satisfying meal with dessert and drinks (even given that my mum and dad had eaten a hearty lunch). As we walked out the door, a passerby was telling his friend what a great place Baba was, thus reinforcing our own feelings.

80 Lygon Street
East Brunswick

Tel: 03 9380 8534

Sunday, 18 January 2009

NCR How My Chowder Fed the Dalek!

Did anyone else think it a bit contradictory when the ‘global financial crisis’ hit at the end of last year and we were encouraged to spend, spend, spend and there were calls to prop up the car manufacturers for the good of the nation? It was puzzling to see how it sat with our governments’ ‘commitment’ to combating climate change and carbon emissions.

Oh yes, the whole environmental movement is a complicated business and at times seems a cynical exercise. I often wonder if supermarkets encourage us to use recycling bags (that they sell us) rather than plastic bags because they believe it will make a better world or a larger profit margin. While some of my lifestyle decisions, such as being vegetarian and living close to a bike track and public transport, are consistent with the green movement, I am by no means a role model in such things. Although in an ideal world I would make more changes, the reality of my life at the moment means that I shop at the supermarkets more than farmers markets and I don’t always remember to take my own bags.

One small thing I can do to improve the environment has been on my wish list for a while: a compost bin. I have lived with them in previous households but not for some time. Our small unit has a small concreted backyard. Not only does this mean that we don’t have the garden to use broken-down compost, but I am told that the open base of a compost bin needs to sit above soil so food scraps break down in the first place. Why can’t these things be simple?

We bought a compost bin a while ago but had to work out how to sit it in soil in a concrete backyard. E has no clue, having lived in flats for a lot of his life. My parents have always kept their food waste. When I was small it went to the chooks in the backyard. Once we moved into Geelong and left the chooks behind, it went onto their large garden (pictured) which would welcome as much composted mulch as anyone could produce. In fact, they don’t have a compost bin so much as a compost system. There are about three compartments for the compost depending on what stage of decay it is at. My parents love their garden and my dad, in particular, loves the sort of challenge that our backyard presents.

There have been discussions with my dad about constructing trays and grills for the compost to breath but last week he sorted our compost bin by sitting it on some foam underlay topped with soil. Finally our food scraps are going to breakdown in the backyard rather than being landfill. You can see a photo of the compost bin which we call the Dalek because it looks short, squat and threatening. It has been moved to a quiet corner of the yard where it can't cause any smelly mischief.

The best thing about having a compost bin is that I am keen to use fruit and veg that will contribute waste to the bin. So when Lisa and Holler called for vegetable soups for this month’s No Croutons Required (NCR) event, I thought it an ideal opportunity to generate some food scraps.

This may sound like a strange motivation to make soup but I don’t make so much soup in summer, especially when the weather really heats up. We had a scorcher on Tuesday of 37 C. Not good timing for thinking about soup! Having a surplus of milk, I thought I could make a creamy soup. I decided on a chowder but it really didn’t sit well with the heat and I ended up using the ingredients to make a corn salad instead.

Luckily I had bought quite a few cobs of corn and the weather cooled late last week. It cooled so much that when I went to lunch with a friend we optimistically sat outside but went inside when it got so windy that chairs were being blown into the road! So I made my chowder after all.

I looked at quite a few recipes on the web for inspiration and then settled on my own version. The mention of basil in chowder appealed. A touch of the Mediterranean seemed guaranteed to bring some of that sunny summery charm that we have glimpsed in the weather last week. I also added some mustard, lime juice and parmesan.

It was quite tasty, with sharp and sweet flavours. The milk didn’t make it heavy as I had feared. My main criticism was that it needed just a little extra salt. E, as always, added a few drops of Tabasco. Both of us found it very filling and I probably could have done without the bread I served with it.

Even better was that the chowder gave the dalek a good feed because corn on the cob generates quite a bit of waste. (Unfortunately the only corn in the supermarket was packaged in a polystyrene tray which seems unnecessary and frustrating when corn comes in its own packaging.) I wouldn’t usually give you a photo of the food scraps from a meal but I couldn’t resist with the excitement of having our own functioning compost bin. It is a small gesture towards a world where we recycle more and need less.

Potato and Corn Chowder with basil and mustard
Serves 2-3

2 tsp olive oil
1onion, chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 medium potatoes, diced
kernels of 3 corn cobs
1 cup water
1 cup low fat milk
1 tsp stock powder (I used chicken-style)
1 tsp mustard powder
1 bay leaf
1 large handful basil, chopped
Juice of half a lime
40g parmesan cheese, finely grated

Fry onion, carrot, celery and garlic in oil in a large saucepan over medium to low heat for about 5 minutes. Add potato and fry an additional 5 minutes, stirring frequently so potatoes don’t stick to the pan. Add corn kernels, water, milk, stock powder, mustard powder and bay leaf. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes or til potatoes are soft. (In some recipes they said not to let the milk boil, mine did have a little skin or scum on top but I just stirred it in and it seemed ok.) Take saucepan off the heat. Remove bay leaf. Stir in basil, lime and parmesan. Check seasoning before serving.

On the stereo:
Desert Island Selection: Brian Eno

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Mojos Weird Pizza – for the adventurous!

We used to live close enough to Mojos Weird Pizza to dial out for pizza but now that we live further from the city, they don’t deliver to our neck of the woods. It is a rare treat to have their pizza these days. So when I was driving past last week close to dinner time, I stopped by to pick up a pizza.

Mojos is – as the name says – weird! If the name didn’t give a clue, then the chainmail headgear on the counter might! The weird part of the menu has many amusingly named pizzas – Hideous Kinky, Jamie Oliver, Groundhog, Go Bananas etc etc. Our favourite is The Gringo. We couldn’t resist it, for old times sake.

Imagine nachos on a pizza. The Gringo is layers of salsa, crushed corn chips and cheese, which are then scattered with jalapeno peppers and blobs of sour cream and guacamole. This is a feast of carbs and fat with a little spice thrown in. It reminds me of eating a deep fried mars bar where I had a bite and then had to have another to convince myself it really was that strange.

However, when I ordered, my eyes were bigger than my stomach. I not only ordered a medium Gringo but also a small dessert pizza by the name of Bumpy Lane. (Memo to self – next time a small Gringo will suffice!) The second night we had a piece each of the Gringo with some simple salad and we agreed that this was a far far better way to eat it because it is a rather heavy pizza.

After we shared most of the Gringo on the first night, it was an effort to even taste the Bumpy Lane which consisted of nutella, peanuts, choc chips, raspberry lollies, coconut and chocolate sauce. When I peeked at it in the car, the little marshmallows looks perky sitting atop the pizza but by the time we were ready to eat they had melted into gooey white pools. It was so rich and decadent that a small pizza lasted us 3 nights. E found it rather chewy. I loved the chocolatey intensity but found the whole peanuts a bit much and would have preferred them chopped smaller or left out altogether.

As an aside, the menu says that the Bumpy Lane is vegetarian but I did wonder if the marshmallows and raspberry lollies were indeed gelatine-free. Stricter (and more alert) vegetarians than me might have checked.

We ate outside because it was a balmy 29 C and quite pleasant in the backyard. This is a pizza to be served with serviettes and copious glasses of water. It was the Epiphany so we took down our Christmas decorations and then I was so full I had to lie on the couch while I watched Party Animals on the telly. This show is one of those gems of the non-ratings period (ie the time over summer when the television stations don’t bother with ratings or decent shows because they assume everyone is outside enjoying the sun) which stars the sweet and boyish Matt Smith who will be the new Doctor Who. I can’t wait (even though I will be sad to farewell David Tennant’s doctor).

It was fun to have a couple of Mojos Weird Pizzas but I can’t help but think it is probably just as well we are too far away to just pick up the phone any more. They do have a classic pizza menu and a light cheese option, if that is what you are after. Nevertheless, once in a while is quite enough for us.

Mojos Weird Pizza
384 Queen’s Parade
Clifton Hill
Tel 03 9489 6588

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Sunday, 11 January 2009

Curry traditions – of sausages and potatoes

Food is nourishment. For the body and the soul. Some recipes delight me with their fresh and interesting flavours. Others comfort with tastes that return me to the happy times of childhood. One beloved dish of my childhood was sausage curry.

When we had a birthday, we could choose whatever dish we wanted and one of my sisters always chose sausage curry. I couldn’t tell you my favourite dish ever of my childhood but this one has fond memories, probably more so because it is so easy to convert to a pleasing vegetarian version that fits with how I eat today. It also satisfies my love of sausages which I have written about before.

This sausage curry is about my family traditions and home comforts but I highly doubt many eat such a dish in India. In fact I just used a curry paste from a jar and vegie sausages from the supermarket. Nothing at all authentic about it.

When I had a quick look for sausage curry on the internet I found one on a student recipe site where it instructed to mix cooked sausages with a jar of curry sauce. I thought it made my recipe look quite sophisticated. My version had many more vegetables than my mum used to put in her curry. In fact when we were eating it, E commented that it is more like a casserole than a curry. It tastes so good and is so easy in times of low energy that it seemed worth blogging.

I made it before Christmas when I was busy and welcomed a dish to keep me going for a few nights. I was going through one of those phases when one dish led to another. I had made a dahl (similar to this one) and made some Aloo Jeera to accompany it. Once I had finished the dahl, I needed something else to serve with the leftover aloo jeera.

The recipe for the aloo jeera or cumin potatoes came from The Book of Yum and looked so good I had to try it. My recipe was an adaptation of Yum’s version because I was a bit lackadaisical in making it but it still tasted astonishingly good. Yum had been seeking to recreate a dish she had encountered in Bangalore. The aloo jeera was great with some dahl and chopped tomatoes, and even better with the sausage curry. It elevated a bog standard curry to something full of wonderful fragrant flavours. This is a tradition that I am happy to embrace.

Sausage curry casserole
Serves 6

1 packet of 6 vegetarian sausages (I used Sanitarium)
1 tbsp oil (optional)
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 carrot, diced
3 heaped dessertspoons of Rogan Josh curry paste (I used Pataks), or to taste
660g pumpkin, trimmed, peeled and chopped
1 large zucchini (250g), chopped
2 button mushrooms, chopped
400g tin diced tomatoes
225g tin chopped unsweetened pineapple, drained*
400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
½ a 400g tin of water
½ cup of frozen peas

* I used pineapple because I didn’t have any sultanas but you can substitute a handful of sultanas. If you do use the pineapple you can put the juice in if you like but I prefer to drink it in a glass or keep it aside for a smoothie.

Cook sausages under the griller (or broiler), turning regularly til well browned. (Mine often get a little burnt, especially if I forget them while doing other things but this recipe is quite forgiving of a little charcoal.)

Meanwhile cook the onions and carrot in the oil in a stockpot (or if you want less fat in the curry, just heat a little water in the bottom of the stockpot and cook onions and carrot in that). When onions soften, add the curry paste and cook another minute or so.

Add remaining ingredients, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. The sausages might not be done by now but if not, they can be added a little later. Once sausages are cooked sufficiently, chop into inch-long pieces and add to curry.

Serve with rice and accompaniments of your choosing. The below Aloo Jeera gives the curry a real lift!

Aloo Jeera (Cumin potatoes)
(Adapted from the Book of Yum)
Serves 4-6 as a side dish

5-6 potatoes, diced
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
2 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
4-6 fresh curry leaves, roughly chopped
1 tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp turmeric
generous sprinkling of salt

Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Fry onion and ginger until they become translucent.

Scrape the onion and ginger to the sides and add an additional tablespoon of oil in the centre of the frying pan. When the oil is hot, add mustard seeds and cumin seeds till they begin to pop. Stir curry leaves, coriander and tumeric into the centre mixture and gradually mix in the onion and ginger mixture.

Toss in the potatoes and mix with the spices. Add salt to taste. Let the potatoes brown a few minutes and then add a small amount of water. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes. (After this my potatoes were nicely charred – I am not sure if this was intended but it did taste good). Use an eggflip or spatula to flip the potatoes over. Add a little more water and cook for 5-10 minutes covered until potatoes are cooked (5 minute was plenty for me).

NB: Here The Book of Yum added more oil, more cumin seeds and fried the potatoes a little longer but I just served them as is. If you want the authentic version, I suggest you check out her recipe.

On the stereo:
Cocktails, Carnage, Crucifixion and Pornography: Ordo Rosarius Equilibro

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Miso Soup for after the feasting!

Picture the scene. It was the weekend after New Year’s Eve and we were due back at work on Monday. Zinc asleep in the beanbag. E seeking out neofolk music on the web. The weekend paper spread over the couch. I was wasting time on the giant holiday crossword. Time for a bowl of miso soup leftover from the previous night.

Yes Miso Soup will complete that lazy scene at the end of the holidays. It is what Nigella calls temple food. Some would call it detox or diet food. For me, it is just the soup to turn to when I have had a glut of rich food and need some healthy cleansing soup full of vegetables and noodles. It is a refreshing soup with a salty sour taste. And it leaves lots of room for leftover chocolate cake!

As I sat down to write about it I wondered where my version of miso soup had come from. Many of the miso soups I see are a lot plainer with less vegetables. I can’t remember if I learnt it from someone, found it in a cookbook or just needed more vegetables in it. Wherever it came from, I have made it too many times for it to resemble anything but my own creation. It is not at all traditional but I love it.

Given that this is my idiosyncratic recipe based on what I made last weekend, I was tempted to include a can of Stag Chilli in the ingredients list and write into the method a reminder to tell E to get his own dinner. I love sharing meals but it does have its limitations. I haven’t made this soup for some time because I get discouraging sounds from E who doesn’t understand its charms. However, with enough leftovers from feasting I could let him fend for himself while I enjoyed one of my favourite soups.

I was particularly pleased to be able to make this with minimal purchases from the shops. E went out the previous day and bought me some broccoli while I was having a blitz on cleaning. Everything else was in my kitchen. I like to keep vegetarian dashi stock powder, dried shitake mushrooms and dried seaweed in the cupboard especially for this soup. I have two sorts of miso – dark and white – because I find the dark too overpowering by itself.

I like my miso soup full of tofu, noodles and vegetables, depending on what is about in the kitchen. This is a soup that is different every time I make it, so the below recipe is just a snapshot in time. A tin of mixed Chinese vegetables is helpful but I don’t always use this. Any other quick cooking vegetables – snow peas, sprouts, asparagus, capsicum, corn, spinach, spring onion or even pumpkin – might find their way into such a soup. Ginger and chilli can also be added. Apologies that the recipe is a little vague but I didn’t intend to post it and took little notice of what I was doing. But when I sat down to eat it, I thought it so good that I wanted to share it.

I am sending this soup to Ilva at Lucillian Delights for the Heart of the Matter blog event. It an event that I have always enjoyed because it encourages heart healthy eating but I haven’t managed to send many entries to lately. However with this month’s theme being Slimmer Recipes, I thought this soup would be just right.

Miso soup with tofu, noodles and vegetables
Serves 2-3

½ x 10g packet kombu-shitake dashi powder
1 small handful dried shitake mushrooms, broken up
1 small handful dried arame (seaweed)
1 carrot, chopped into matchsticks
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
125g firm tofu, diced
1 head broccoli, chopped
1 generous tbsp dark miso (such as hatcho)
1 generous tbsp white miso
200g packet ready-cooked udon noodles
2 button mushrooms, sliced
400g tin of mixed Chinese vegetables (bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, baby corn and water chestnuts)

Place dashi powder, dried mushrooms, arame, carrot, garlic and tofu in a large saucepan. Cover with water, stir and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 5-10 minutes (depending on what else you are doing and how well you like your carrot cooked). Add broccoli and simmer another 2-3 minutes. While the soup is simmering take a ladle of water out of the saucepan and place in a small bowl. Stir in dark and white miso til well combined and the return to saucepan. Add noodles, mushrooms and Chinese vegetables. Check water level – you may need to add some more, depending on preference. Simmer 1-2 minutes to heat through. Ladle into deep bowls to serve.

On the stereo:
Mysteria Mithrae: Various Artists

Monday, 5 January 2009

Summer Fruit Salad, Darling!

I had a shopping trip to Prahran Market just after Christmas. I haven’t managed to get out to markets a lot lately so it was a bit of a treat, especially with all the gorgeous summer fruit about.

Markets are so much more friendly than supermarkets but this makes it harder to stay aloof when making decisions about what to buy. Make eye contact with the man selling 650g cherries for $5 and it is hard to say no. Alright, I didn’t want to. I love cherries and couldn’t resist a bargain even if I am not naturally inclined to buy so many. And there were blood plums which I have fond memories of eating as a child but don’t see many good ones about. I like their dark colour, their suggestive name and their tart flavour. Even better is the suggestive sell at the counters is punnets of cheap berries rather than chocolate bars – I don’t usually go for the chocolate bars but raspberries at $3 for a 150g punnet is hard to walk by. But the most curious were all the men selling fruit at the stall kept calling me ‘darling’! (I feel like looking behind me and then asking, ‘you talking to me?’) As I said, markets are full of friendly folk.

By the time I got home, my fruit bowl was overflowing, thanks to my enthusiastic purchasing at the market. The fruit needed to be used. Inspired by the red fruit salad I made last year, I returned to my dessert cookbook for ideas. I didn’t find quite the recipe I was after but had enough ideas. I made the loveliest summer fruit salad.

I love stone fruit and berries and wish they featured in more fruit salads. It remains a mystery to me as to why so many fruit salads are full of melons. I don’t mind apples, bananas, orange, pineapple, kiwi fruit and passionfruit which are commonly found in fruit salad. But melons!!! I have heard that there are people who love melons but I cannot understand why. Hence it difficult for me to find a pleasing fruit salad and all the more reason to relish those that I make at home in summer.

E ate very little of the fruit salad. All the more for me! I gobbled up a large bowl with no accompaniments, although I know some would prefer it with a dollop of yoghurt, cream or marscapone. I enjoyed it so much I didn’t have room for a mince tart when E had one.

I thought it was worth also a quick mention of the pizza that we had for dinner that night, after some foraging in the fridge. I had bought a large wheel of Turkish bread at the market which I used as a pizza base (although you could make a pizza base like I did last year). I made a lovely pizza of parsnip, broccoli and gruyere cheese. I have written out what I did below as a reminder. We were quite happy with this after a large lunch but it wasn’t quite enough the next night when we had just been delicately snacking through the day. However it didn’t need a salad when we had a large helping of healthy fruit salad afterwards!

Summer Fruit Salad
Serves 3-4

200g cherries, pitted
100g raspberries
2 nectarines, diced
2 blood plums, diced
1 tbsp agave nectar
Juice of half a lime
Leaves of 1 sprig of mint, chopped

Mix together, eat and swoon!

Parsnip, Broccoli and Gruyere Pizza
Serves 2 -4

⅔ of wheel of Turkish bread
3 parsnips, peeled and chopped
½ carrot, peeled and chopped
Splash or two of milk
⅔ head of broccoli, finely chopped
1 tomato, halved and thinly sliced
½ shallot, finely sliced
100g gruyere cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 230 C.

Cook parsnips and carrots together in microwave or on stovetop till soft. Mash with milk and seasoning. Lightly microwave or steam broccoli.

Spread Turkish bread with parsnip mash. Scatter with tomato slices, then broccoli, then shallots and then cheese.

Bake for about 15 minutes or til cheese is melted and golden brown.

On the Stereo:
How he loved the moon: Current 93

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Chocolate, cherry and chestnut cake

I had half a tin of chestnut puree leftover and decided to use it in a cake for dessert at our new year’s eve dinner. Lysy has posted a tempting Chestnut Orange Chocolate Mousse Cake which I hope to try some time but it seemed rather rich for just the two of us. I looked at a few other chocolate chestnut cakes on the web and found ones that were extremely decadent, full of sherry or filled with cranberry preserves.

Still unsure which cake to make, I decided to return to Not Quite Nigella’s Ultimate Chocolate Cake event for ideas. Where I found a Chocolate Cherry Cake recipe by Cakelaw that I had bookmarked to try. This is a low fat cake which is made with fresh cherries and grated apple. I was inspired by Dog Hill Kitchen’s epiphany that she could substitute chestnut puree for pumpkin puree. If she could substitute it for pumpkin, I could do so for grated apple because apples are not in season at the moment and I wanted to use my chestnut puree.

Like a magpie, I stole ideas from here and there to tweak the recipe to my fancy. I didn’t want a rich cake but wasn’t too bothered about it being low fat. One thing about many low fat cakes that perplexes me is when they have more egg whites than egg yolks. Maybe it is my lack of understanding of eggs altogether. But if you take out the egg yolks, you need to use them somehow. It just seems like fat that you can’t escape from. Maybe dieters feed them to others? Anyway I changed the recipe from 2 yolks and 4 white to a simple 3 whole eggs. It seems so much easier than way.

I was also inspired by a recent comment by Becstarr when I expressed uncertainty about how to use red currants. She suggested mixing them with other berries and a spoonful of icing sugar for an hour or two before serving. So I served just such a berry concoction with the cake which was so lovely I didn’t bother with cream. I liked the tart taste of the red currants among the berries.

When it comes to my chocolate cakes, E often turns into the Grim Eater and tells me they are too rich. He was pleasantly surprised by this one and said it was not too rich. It must be the absence of any butter or oil. Nor was it overly sweet. I didn’t put lots of sugar (choosing not to pack the cup of brown sugar) and with the 70% chocolate and cocoa it was slightly bitter.

I decided to put aside a little of the mixture for a few mini muffins because I didn’t have the right sized cake tin. When I spooned the mixture into the silicone muffin cups, it looked rather runny and I realised I had forgotten to add the flour. I added flour to the remaining mixture which went into the large cake tin. Without flour the cake was rich with a more crumbly and fluffy texture. With flour it was a little more stodgy and fudgy. It was a nice mistake to make, because it made me realize I could omit the flour for a gluten free alternative, or reduce the flour if I wanted to.

Lastly, I can’t comment on the cake without mentioning the wonderful bounty of fresh cherries that went into it. Pitting the cherries takes a little time and does end up with cherry juice splattered over anything in the vicinity but it is worth the effort. My mum uses a hairpin to pit cherries. When we were discussing it in front of my dad he tried to demonstrate how it would be possible to pit cherries with his pliers. All I can say is, don’t try this at home kids! Luckily for us, cherries are in season in Melbourne right now but frozen cherries can be substituted. I would also be interested to try this with berries.

I hope to be making this cake again. It impresses with its intense chocolate flavour and juicy cherries but will not sit heavily at the bottom of your stomach. It can be adapted for gluten free family and friends. Most importantly, it is so good that you will be glad you will not feel too guilty having a second piece.

Chocolate, cherry and chestnut cake
(Adapted from Cakelaw)

100g chopped dark chocolate
1 cup brown sugar (not packed)
½ cup cocoa powder
½ cup boiling water
3 eggs, separated
cup self raising flour (optional)
2½ cups (approx 400g) pitted fresh cherries, roughly chopped
¾ cup (approx 200g) chestnut puree
1 tbsp sherry
1 tsp orange zest
Berries and icing sugar to serve (optional)

Preheat oven to 180 C. Grease a 20cm square cake tin and line the base with baking paper. Or you can grease and line a 20cm round cake tin and line 4-5 mini muffin cups with cupcake papers.

In a large bowl, pour the boiling water over the chocolate, sugar, sherry and sifted cocoa and stir to combine. Let the mixture to stand for around 2 minutes to give time for the chocolate to melt, then stir again until smooth. (NB mine wasn’t completely smooth but who doesn’t like the occasional small chunk of chocolate in a cake). Mix in chestnut puree and orange zest. Again, if the puree isn’t completely mixed in the occasional chunk in the cake is ok.

Separate the eggs. The egg yolks can go straight into the chocolate mixture and the egg whites should be placed in a separate small bowl. Lightly mix the egg yolks into the chocolate mixture. Beat the egg whites with the electric beaters until they form stiff peaks and then gently fold into the chocolate mixture.

Add the cherries into the mixture and stir until just combined.

This is when I added the flour because I forgot it. Cakelaw added the flour after the egg yolks. And you can omit it altogether if you want.

Pour the cake batter into the lined cake tin, bake in the preheated oven for 35-45 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the cake comes out cleaning. (It is the sort of cake that is delicious if a little fudgy in the middle so it is ok if the skewer is not completely clean.) Let cake stand for 5-10 minutes and turn onto a wire rack to cook (or you can cool it in the tin like Cakelaw did).

I served it with berries that had been mixed with a spoonful of icing sugar an hour or two previously. E had berries and brandy butter. You might also like it with cream or just with a sprinkling of icing sugar.

On the stereo:
Live in San Francisco 14 April 2004 (bootleg): Sorrow (Rose McDowall)

Friday, 2 January 2009

New Year’s Feasting

In my previous post I meant to write up all my foodie feasting over the new year but got distracted with lists. So here is a little meander through some of the good food I enjoyed over the new year.

On New Year’s Eve, E and I had a low key celebration at home with a special dinner followed by The Edinburgh Tattoo on the television. As in the last few years we had haggis, tatties and neeps. I made the Vegetarian Haggis with Cinnamon Tomato Sauce that I served the previous year.

Buying Whisky for the Haggis

The most amusing moment with the haggis was in renewing our whisky stock. We don’t drink a lot of whisky but E likes a wee dram occasionally and I cook with it. Having finished our last bottle, we headed off to buy some at the local liquor superstore. E decided to follow his dad’s example and buy Talisker, a single malt from the Isle of Skye. It was in a locked cabinet and when we asked a member of staff to unlock it for us, he thanked us for buying a decent whisky. I can’t remember the last time I was thanked for making a food and drink purchase with such sincerity. I didn’t have the heart to tell him we needed whisky for making vegetarian haggis.

Neeps and Tatties Latkes

I have an ongoing quest to find a pleasing neeps and tatties (potatoes and turnips) accompaniment to haggis rather than a plain old mash. Last year I had a disaster with dressing it up as rosti. Recently I have had latkes (or potato pancakes) on my mind after seeing posts from Ricki, Ruth and Lisa. I particularly liked Ricki’s idea of using another vegetable than potato to lighten the latkes.

So I decided to make neeps and tatties latkes. I mostly followed Ricki’s recipe because when I tried latkes recently it didn’t seem a good use of eggs and so the ground flaxseed alternative was preferable. But I added some Scottish seasonings – whisky, mustard and oat bran. They were full of flavour, if a little salty (which I think might be due to my new packet of salt being particularly large rocks). I have found these latkes to be almost lacy and need gentle handling to hold together. They taste much better than a plain mash but are a bit more work to fry up than just boiling and mashing.

Minted fruit punch

We also had a fruit punch which I made along similar lines to my recent spiced redcurrant and orange punch. This one had mixed berries instead of redcurrants and was flavoured with mint steeped in some boiling water and cooled instead of the ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg infusion. I also used ginger ale rather than lemonade to top it up. It was a nice alternative to champagne for toasting the new year in. I even picked more mint from the garden to garnish the punch but was too tired to remember it when it came to serving.

I confess that making the new year’s eve dinner exhausted me. I felt like I was cooking for a lot of the day and by the time we sat down to dinner I was totally drained. A reminder to me to either keep it simple or stagger the preparation over 2 or 3 days if I want to really enjoy a special meal.

New Year’s Day lunch at Kalamata Cafe

On New Year’s Day we visited my parents who took us to lunch at Kalamata Cafe which is situated in an olive grove on the Bellerine Peninsula. It is more upmarket than E and I are used to and has large windows overlooking the sweep of the landscape down to the Queenscliff seaside.

Everyone was very pleased with their food except me, so I decided, instead of a separate post, to just include a few notes here. We did agree that the service was not great. My problem with the place was that it manages to serve interesting meat main courses with the sort of side dishes I would love to try but the only main vegetarian option is a pumpkin pasta dish which has a heavy cream sauce and is light on vegetables. But despite my complaints, it was still a pleasant place to chew the fat and gaze out over the lovely views.

I would love to plead with owners of such restaurants to look over some of the great vegetarian blogs around to see how creative and satisfying vegetarian cooking can be. Many onmivores would love a decent veg option, as well as vegetarians.

In search of chocolate cake on New Year’s Day

We had agreed to share a dessert tasting platter at the end of the meal. As I made my way through the pasta and salad, my spirits were buoyed by the thought of the chocolate tart at the end of the meal. Unfortunately when the platter arrived and I looked for my tart, I was told it was off the menu. So I picked with no enthusiasm at the small serves of lime tart, pecan pie, pannacotta, and vanilla ice cream. Not at all my sort of thing, though again, everyone else enjoyed it.

We went for a walk in Queenscliff after dinner and so I sought out some nice chocolate cake. Finally I saw some chocolate fudge slice that looked promising. I asked what was in it and was told chocolate, cream, butter, sugar. Sounded fine, if a little rich. But when I got back to my folks’ place I discovered the shopkeeper had omitted to tell me about one important ingredient – coffee! I dislike coffee flavouring intensely unless it is so subtle I don’t notice it. One bite and I discarded this cake.

Luckily my mum had been baking and we had a black forest cake to eat which was much nicer than anything we could have bought yesterday. I also had made a chocolate cake for New Year’s Eve (which I will post about soon) and still had some left. Yet again it seems the food made at home is better than that which we pay good money for when eating out. It does make me wonder if I ate out more would I be less particular about what I ate or would I just be very skinny!

Tatties and Neeps Latkes
(adapted from Ricki)
Serves 4-6 as a side dish

3 medium potatoes, scrubbed and grated
1 medium turnip, peeled and grated
1 onion, finely chopped
¾ cup oat bran
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp finely ground flax seeds
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp whisky
1 tsp seeded mustard
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp salt
Black pepper, freshly ground to taste
Extra oil for frying

Place grated potato and turnip and place in a colander. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Transfer grated vegetables to a large mixing bowl and add remaining ingredients except extra oil. Mix well (Ricki suggests mixing with your hands which might be helpful as I found it tough to mix with a spoon).

Heat 1-2 tbsp of oil into a large frying pan over medium heat. Drop generous spoonfuls into the oil and flatten into small latkes with an egg flip or spatula. Fry for about 2-4 minutes until golden brown and then flip over and fry an additional 2-4 minutes. I found them a bit fragile to flip so be gentle. When cooked on both side, drain on paper towel. Fry remaining mixture in batches, using additional oil if necessary, and keep cooked latkes warm in a low oven until ready to serve.

On the stereo:
Scotch Moods: Various Artists

Happy New Year 2009

It is that time of year when we forget what day of the week it is, forgive ourselves a little indulgence and reflect on the past year.

Best of all it is a time for lists. There was a great article on lists in the Age newspaper on the weekend (Your list is on my list – Mel Campbell, A2, p 9) which talks about how lists help to process the every day and create a cultural capital. I can’t find it online so I will just share my favourite line– at year’s end we all want lists ‘to knit diverse, bewildering and random events into an overarching and comforting narrative’. Oh yes!

The past year was a hard one but blogging has brought much joy and support. I thought of lists I could write to sum it all up and in the end I had lots of lists so I have indulged in three lists.

Blogging highlights in 2008:

- I celebrated my first blogiversary with a Green Gourmet Giraffe Birthday Cake
- My first blog event – A Neb at Nutroast
- Participating in inspirational blog events – with special mention going to Holler and Lisa’s No Croutons Required vegetarian soup and salad event which I was voted winner, not once but twice
- Making smoothies regularly – my favourite being variations on a berry and banana smoothie
- A new interest in food history
- Discovery of purple asparagus
- On the stereo, it has been the year of neofolk and exotica (probably E's highlight rather than mine)!
- Compilation of lists – Blog Index, My Cookbooks and My Personal 100 Foods

Best of 2008:
(*E says that I should keep this list to products of 2008 but I have taken it to mean the best I have encountered which is my justification for picking a CD and book which were not produced last year.)

- Best film – The Bank Job
- Best TV show – Life on Mars
- Best CD – Songs for the Young at Heart by Various Artists*
- Best book - The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards*
- Best new cookbook – Wild Garlic, Gooseberries and Me by Denis Potter (a gift from my sister Chris)
- Best meal eaten out – Vegetarian banquet at Rumi, East Brunswick
- Best café out of town – Sirens, Hobart
- Best cake – Melt and mix chocolate chunk mud cake (a sentimental favourite)
- Best new kitchen implements – two little black and white bowls (bought by my dad for us in his football team colours! See photo)

Posts of the month in 2008:
(I have seen other bloggers who have listed their favourite recipes for each month. When I looked at my month by month list, I found it hard to decide on a favourite recipe but some posts leapt out at me for more personal reasons. So this list is one which reflects how food has a far deeper meaning in our lives than just fuel for the body. Of course, even this list seems arbitrary because some months had far more interesting posts than others. But I can’t resist a list!)

January - Gorgeous grubs
February - Queen Victoria Market - day and night
March - Pomegranates - the cruelest fruit?
April - Happiness chowder
May - What does a pagan eat anyway?
June - Novel Food 4: Drowned broccoli
July - Tabouli from the tree
August - Do I dare to cook with one less pear?
September - Pudla – for when your team lets you down!
October - Lentil Salad and the Dream Festival
November - Ripple in Still Water
December - Memories, BBQs, and Bangers & Mash

As for New Year’s resolutions, I haven’t made any. I like the quote in the article above which says ‘change either happens slowly and predictably or quickly and unpredictably’. I also like Sophie’s post about Groundhog Day Resolutions which I would prefer to follow if I really did want to plan ahead. But if my life went to plan, I might have managed to get this post up a few days ago!

Thanks to all of you who are taking the time to read this - your support, inspiration and kind comments are much appreciated. I would list all the wonderful bloggers out there but that would be a long list. Thanks to family and friends who are among my readers and who enjoy sharing food with me (especially my mum). And a special thanks to E for all the dishes, music and support this year.

While I might not have plans, I do have hope. I look forward to more friendship, good food and entertaining blogging in 2009. Happy New Year one and all!

On the stereo:
Mia Runa (commemorating the first birthday of Mia Runa Presch, daughter of owners of Steinklang Industries) – Various Artists