Sunday, June 16, 2019

Hazelnut caramel slice

I think my friend Alice gave me this recipe, several years ago. It was a hit with her kids, and no wonder ... what's not to like about a crisp chocolate-y base covered in caramel, hazelnuts and chocolate? I halved the amount of sugar in the base and think it's even better when less sweet. It's made in three stages:

For the base
200 grams butter, chopped
50 grams cocoa
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 eggs, beaten
225 grams plain wholemeal flour

For the caramel topping
180 grams butter, chopped
110 grams caster sugar
2 tablespoons golden syrup
0.75 cup sweetened condensed milk *
185 grams hazelnuts, toasted

For the chocolate topping
200 grams dark chocolate
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Base: Preheat oven to moderate-slow (around 150 degrees Celsius). Grease and line a 20 cm x 30 cm baking tray. Melt (base) butter and cocoa together, add sugar and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat, add vanilla essence, eggs and flour, mix well. Spread into baking tray and bake for 20 minutes. Cool.

Caramel topping: Combine butter, sugar, syrup and condensed milk in a saucepan. Stir over low heat until butter is melted. Increase heat to moderate and simmer about 13 minutes or until mixture is a dark caramel colour. Remove from heat and stir in hazelnuts.

To assemble: Spread caramel/nut filling evenly over the cooled base and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes until firm. Melt the chocolate and oil together. Spread over the caramel topping, refrigerate until set, and cut into squares or bars.

* this time I used Pandaroo sweetened condensed coconut milk, after stumbling across it in the supermarket. It worked really well!

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Two days in Newcastle

A couple of weeks ago Andrew mentioned that he had the option of attending a symposium in Newcastle. He has relatives there, and it was an opportunity to escape Canberra's icy winter for a couple of days, so I said 'let's go!' Fortunately, now that I'm self-employed, I can work anywhere (have laptop, will travel) so I took my work with me.

On our first night there were shared a delicious dinner with several of his colleagues at Sapphire Indian Restaurant:

We were honoured to be adopted by our hosts' cat, Lily:

and delighted to wake up to a sublime sunrise:

As well as finishing my editing work on Thursday, I took myself for a couple of meandering walks around the neighbourhood.

Merewether Beach

A Cocowhip brekkie bowl (so yummy) and soy flat white at Blue Door Kiosk

Oh, and it turns out the fabulous Trevor Dickinson (best known in Canberra for his iconic paintings of bus shelters) has also painted an excellent fishy mural through a road underpass. Very cool ...

Newcastle is a fun place to visit. We enjoyed catching up with the rellies and I enjoyed my wanderings!

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Pumpkin loaf

Last year we grew our first ever pumpkins, a grand total of two. I kept the seeds from those pumpkins, planted them in the garden last spring, and have harvested more than twenty this autumn! Here are the remaining pumpkins:

We've eaten a couple ourselves, and have given several others away to friends ... and the to tradies who built our new kitchen ;-)

Today I made a pumpkin loaf for lunch. A really simple recipe.

0.25 cup olive oil
2 eggs
0.5 teaspoon vanilla essence
1.5 cups wholemeal flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
0.5 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
0.5 cup chopped nuts or pepitas (optional)
2 cups pumpkin, chopped and microwaved (or steamed) until soft

Beat oil, eggs and vanilla together. Add to sifted dry ingredients, nuts and mashed pumpkin. Bake in a greased loaf tin for 1 to 1.5 hours in a moderate oven (about 180 degrees Celsius).

Slather on some butter for a delicious yet nutritious lunch. Freeze any leftovers for yet more lunches.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Lunch @ The Food Co-op

My friend and coffee buddy Jacqui recently had a birthday and I offered to take her out to lunch to celebrate. She opted for the Food Co-op Shop and Cafe, which is around the corner from the Australian National University and very popular with uni students. I'd never been there before – Jacqui knew about it via her twentysomething, vegan daughter – and was delighted with this new discovery! It felt like stumbling into the 1970s! Everything ... the decor, the food, the patrons' attire, the music, was reminiscent of a simpler, hippy-dippy age. So lovely. A few pics ...

Oh, and the lunch! From 12 noon to 2 pm each weekday they serve a hearty, delicious, super-cheap vego lunch. Today it was black lentil dal, pumpkin stew, rice and chunks of bread. All for the princely sum of $8 (or less, if you're a member of the co-op). If I hadn't been so full I'd have tried the vegan cakes on offer too. Yum.

The Food Co-op Shop and Cafe is at 3 Kingsley Street, Canberra. I'm sure we'll be back!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Kitchen 2.0

When we bought our house, three years ago, it had been rented out for about thirty years. It was what real estate agents euphemistically call a 'renovator's delight'. Still, we could see that the location was fabulous, the back yard spacious, and the house the right size for our needs. Gradually we went about adding, repairing and replacing all the missing and broken bits. Insulation, curtains, heating, awnings, screen doors, a hand rail ... and fifteen months ago we replaced the bathroom, which was barely functional (before and after pics here).

Having recovered from the trauma of that reno, this week we did the kitchen! While we liked the layout and colourings in the old kitchen, it was becoming more and more broken. Here's what it looked like two weeks ago:

Here's what it looked like ten days ago:

And here's the new kitchen (including a peek in my whiz-bang new pantry cupboard):

There are still a few things we need to do (organise flooring and paint the cornices) but it's looking pretty swish. It will be fun to cook in a kitchen where the space is used more efficiently and everything works!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Vegetarian thali cooking class @ Foodish

Back in the early noughties, my friend Elizabeth and I attended several half-day cooking classes at Belconnen Markets. They had a demonstration kitchen where the audience sat on tiered rows of chairs and watched as instructors (once, the great Charmaine Solomon) cooked and narrated. At the end of the classes we got to eat the food we'd seen cooked and take the recipes home.

It had been a long time since I'd been to one of these classes (though Andrew and I have taken cooking classes in Singapore, Malaysia and Japan in the meantime) but we recently signed up to attend a vego thali class at Foodish, the current incarnation of the cooking school at the Markets. When we arrived there last night I expected a lazy evening (just watching and eating) but it seems the classes are now more hands on! The ten course participants broke into three teams and created six dishes:

Spinach and chickpea curry
Dry okra curry
Masoor dahl
Lemon rice

over the course of two hours, which we then sat down and ate. Delicious. Some pics ...

We'll definitely be cooking these recipes again. Oh, and the timing of the class was (accidentally) perfect as we currently have no kitchen! It's being renovated. The old kitchen was removed yesterday and the new one started arriving today. May have to share some pics when it's done. Watch this space ;-)

Friday, May 03, 2019

Pumpkin and pea curry

Just made a big pot of this curry ... some to take to our friends' place for dinner on the weekend, some to freeze for later meals, and some for today's lunch. The quantities are vague, I'm afraid ...

onions, chopped
pumpkin, chopped
peas, frozen or fresh
coconut milk
curry powder or paste
vegetable oil

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and gently cook the onion. Add the curry powder or paste and fry until fragrant. Add the pumpkin chunks and coconut milk and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pumpkin is tender. Add the peas and continue cooking until they're heated through.

Serve with rice or naan or on its own. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Anzac biscuits go low(er) carb

Tomorrow is Anzac Day, a day when Australians and New Zealanders remember those who fought at Gallipoli in World War I. Anzac biscuits are eaten all year round, but a news story this week on what may and may not be included in Anzac biscuits prompted me to experiment to see if I could create a lower carbohydrate version of the classic biccie! Turns out the answer is yes. I took one of the recipes on the Australian War Memorial's website (#2 on this page), halved the sugar, and replaced the wheat flour with chickpea (besan) flour. The recipe is rather vague about temperature and cooking time, but I preheated the oven to 160 degrees C and cooked the (ten) biscuits for 20 minutes until they were golden. Yummo.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Another year has zoomed by ...

Ten years ago, today, I started a spreadsheet to record all the meals I cooked (based on the weekly menus I still maintain), and each year on 20 April I've listed what we ate the most. I wish I could say my cooking has become more diverse and creative since leaving my day job, but am not sure it has! These are the things we ate most frequently over the past year:

BLT wraps
falafel wraps
Chinese dumplings
creamy tuna pasta
potato salad
potato, leek, bacon and bean soup
pumpkin and coriander soup
teriyaki tofu with veges
macaroni cheese
rocket, pear, pecan and blue cheese salad

Which isn't to say I NEVER cook more adventurous things. Yesterday I made shakshuka and tonight we're having fesenjān. I think it's just that ... since moving to a house with a garden, I'd rather be gardening than cooking! Sometimes the two activities overlap – this year we've successfully gown pumpkins, garlic, chillies, various berries and a range of herbs – but these days you'll more often find me wearing gumboots than an apron. Ah well.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Whiz-bang new toy

I bought an app! This is a rare occurrence. I use my [Android] smartphone for pretty mainstream stuff ... email, news, blogs, fitness tracking, photos and instant messaging. Anyway. A couple of years ago I discovered the joy of listening to podcasts, both those provided by the ABC (Australia's public broadcaster) and from a range of other sources. While the ABC Listen app is pretty competent, up until recently I was listening to non-ABC podcasts via the Feedly app (an RSS feed reader). Not ideal. I'm not complaining about Feedly – it's essentially for reading text rather than listening to sound files – but it seemed to become increasingly flaky when playing podcasts, to the point where it was time to find Plan B. Big thanks to my partner Andrew for finding and recommending the perfect app! For the grand sum of A$4.99 I've now purchased Pocket Casts and it is wonderful. It was easy to find and subscribe to all of my favourite podcasts ... and the app just works. No cutting out, no crashing, no flakiness. I'm bingeing on podcasts. Delicious.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Hello, pumpkin!

Many years ago, my colleagues and I used to frequent a French cafe for lunch. All the staff there had fabulous French accents. I remember asking the waiter what the soupe du jour was one day and he replied, 'It is pumpkin, Pumpkin!' Pumpkin still reminds me of that day ...

This year's pumpkin crop is currently maturing in our back yard. So exciting! This week I harvested the first one:

You can't see the size from the picture but it weighed about 3 kg so I've put it into several dishes: four portions of pumpkin soup (one we ate for dinner, and the other three went into the freezer), steamed pumpkin chunks to jazz up a boeuf bourguignon, and a large batch of pumpkin scones.

Fun fact about pumpkin scones ... I don't much like making plain scones as I don't like the sensation of rubbing butter into flour, but pumpkin scones use melted rather than rubbed butter, so are much less faffy! Yaaaay.

900 g pumpkin, peeled and cut into chunks
50 g butter
2 eggs
3 cups wholemeal flour
3 tsp baking powder

Microwave the pumpkin until it is soft, then mash roughly and stir in the butter so it melts through. Cool the mixture a little, then add the eggs. Add the flour and baking powder and mix well to make a soft dough. Turn onto a floured tray and pat into a square or round about 3 cm thick. Bake at 200 degrees C for about 30 minutes. Cool a little, then break into chunks and serve with butter.

I like to freeze buttered scones to defrost for lunch on days when I'm hunkering down with a huge pile of editing work.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Brekkie @ RYE (and some photos of balloons)

This morning Andrew and I climbed out of bed super early (5.30 am) and headed off to the annual Canberra Balloon Spectacular, on the lawns of Old Parliament House. It was, as the name suggests, spectacular! Here are a few pics ...

After the balloons were aloft we went in search of breakfast. We decided to go to Braddon, which is absolutely riddled with hip 'n happening cafes, and selected RYE Cafe & Bar because it was open earlier than most ;-) Our brekkie was delicious. After some excellent coffee, he had:

Spiced baked eggs with chickpeas, black beans and capsicum,
served with pangrattato, goat's curd and grilled garlic bread 

and she had:

Golden egg: soft boiled egg, pulled pork, mustard and potato,
served with an apple, snow pea and cucumber salad and aioli

Yum! We're so lucky to live in this gorgeous city.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Chocolate cheesecake, re-engineered

Chocolate cheesecake just got even easier to make! I used to use a recipe with egg whites but never felt entirely comfortable including raw eggs. (I've done a couple of courses in food safety and, although I've never had a problem with it, am aware that raw eggs can be associated with salmonella.) So over the years I've tinkered with the recipe, removing the sugar from the base (it's sweet enough without it), halving the sugar in the topping, deleting the egg whites and increasing the amount of chocolate. It works well.

First, make the base

200 grams plain, sweet biscuits * [I like to use Malt or Digestive biscuits]
100 grams butter

Crush the biscuits. Melt the butter and combine well with the crushed biscuits. Press the mixture onto the bottom of a foil-lined springform pan and chill.

Next, make the cheesy topping

250 grams cream cheese
50 grams raw sugar
150 grams chocolate [milk, dark or white]
300 ml pouring cream

Soften the cream cheese a little and beat well. Beat in the sugar. Melt the chocolate over a bowl of hot water or in a microwave. Allow the chocolate to cool slightly, them combine with the cream cheese mixture. Whip the cream. Combine the chocolate and cream mixtures well, and pile on top of the base. Decorate with extra cream, grated chocolate, or fresh fruit. Refrigerate until ready to eat.

So yummy and so easy!

* Terminology clarification: here in Australia, a biscuit is what people in the USA might call a cookie or a cracker. (What someone in the USA would call a biscuit, we would call a scone or a muffin. Confused yet?) Anyway, if you're making this recipe in the USA, graham crackers are probably a good approximation. You may also need a metric to imperial measurement conversion facility.