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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Blogging by mail

Blogging by Mail

Yey! I got a surprise in the post yesterday. A Blogging by mail (BBM) package!

My first package sadly went astray. But Cakelaw from Laws of the Kitchen was my BBM angel and sent me a replacement one! I hadn't been expecting a replacement - I just chalked it up to bad luck that mine got lost. So you can just imagine my excitement when I received a parcel. I couldn't wait to get into it!

I got:

A selection of Haigh's chocolates
Chocolate hearts
Chocolate with pink peppercorns
Coffee candies
Olive tapenade
Raspberry shiraz conserve
A cute egg cup
And frangipani lip butter

I love it!

A big thank you to Stephanie from Dispensing Happiness for the mammoth task of organising and following up on the event, and a gigantic thank you to Cakelaw for my package. It was so generous and kind to send a replacement and I can't express how much I appreciate it!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I eat I drink I work

I eat. I drink. I work. Although sometimes I didn't have to do the latter. Work gets in the way of my cooking, baking and blogging time!

But enough about me. is an Australian website set up primarily for hospitality job ads. It also showcases food related writing and snippets from blogs, and I'm happy to announce that off the spork will be one of the blogs profiled over the next 10 weeks.

Check it, and the other showcased blogs, out!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Peanut brittle cookies

Peanut brittle cookies

Starting the apple, dried cranberry, and almond loaf got my baking mojo flowing, so I harnessed that energy to make something else.

I felt like making biscuits and flicked through the Australian Women's Weekly "Bake" (you may have noticed that I have been using it a lot lately!). I came across a recipe for peanut brittle cookies that sounded good.

First I roasted peanuts to make the peanut brittle. I already had the loaf in the oven, so I popped the peanuts in with it. Then I wandered away to do something else, getting distracted and by the time I remembered the peanuts, they had just gotten past the stage of roasted. They weren't burnt, but were very, very close and tasted darker than I would've liked.

Next was the caramel to pour over the peanuts. I was vigilant and stayed at the stove to watch it. It took about 10 minutes for the sugar to deepen and become golden brown – once it started to colour it happened very quickly.

Peanut brittle cookies

After the brittle was made, it was a quick process to get them the cookies into the oven. 12 minutes in the oven resulted in a soft cookie. I found that the peanut brittle melted in the oven which gave it the cookies a cracked kind of appearance – quite attractive, I thought – but it did make me wonder about the worth of making the brittle! I think I would have preferred a firmer cookie with bits of crunchy brittle, but I can't figure out how to do that without the caramel melting. Any ideas?

Peanut brittle cookies

Peanut brittle cookies

From Australian Women's Weekly Bake

Makes 18-24

125g butter, softened
1/4 cup (70g) crunchy peanut butter
1/2 cup (100g) firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 & 1/2 cups (225g) plain flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Peanut Brittle
3/4 cup (100g) roasted unsalted peanuts
1/2 cup (110g) caster sugar
2 tablespoons water

Make peanut brittle: Place nuts on a baking paper lined oven tray. Stir the sugar and water in a small frying pan over heat, without boiling, until sugar is dissolved; bring to the boil. Boil, uncovered, without stirring, until golden brown. Pour mixture over nuts; leave until set. Crush coarsely in food processor.

Preheat oven to 160°C/140°C fan-forced. Grease oven trays; line with baking paper.

Beat butter, peanut butter, sugar and egg in small bowl with electric mixer until combined. Stir in sifted dry ingredients and crushed peanut brittle.

Roll heaped teaspoons of mixture into balls with floured hands. Place about 5cm apart on oven trays; flatten slightly (and top with extra crushed brittle if desired).

Bake cookies for about 12 minutes. Cool on trays.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Apple, dried cherry/cranberry and almond loaf

A couple of weeks ago, the Good Food and Wine Show was here in Melbourne. Like we do most years, Bro and I went along. This year seemed quite good, and there were some new products/stalls that I hadn't seen before. Previously there were lots of stalls with cheese and yoghurt – and there were hardly any this year. I'm not sure what that means, but I found it interesting.

I had a good time, and came home with some souvenirs, which included heavy show bags and 13 blocks of Lindt chocolate! My lovely Bro helped carry the heavy bags home without complaint <----- that is a lie! He complained the WHOLE TIME! But I better be careful or he won't carry them next year... love you, Bro! ;)

One of my souvenirs was a Bill Granger DVD that had a few snippets from his cooking show. Alastair and I watched it last week while we had breakfast (crumpets with butter and honey if you're interested). The first recipe was for an apple, dried cherry and almond loaf.

Apple, dried cranberry and almond loaf

The loaf he made looked pretty good, so I decided to turn on the oven and do some baking. Dried cherries aren't a pantry staple of mine, but I had a pack of dried cranberries that I used instead. Apart from the cranberry substitution, I basically followed the recipe outlined here on lifestyle food.

I read recently that if you're measuring honey, you should oil the measuring cup/spoon. (Clever bakers may know this already.) The recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of honey so I got to try it out - and whatdoyouknow! The honey slid straight out!

After the loaf had baked I was sooooooo patient and waited until it had cooled completely before slicing and tasting it. It was good - not too sweet, but with bits of tangy fruit and nuttiness from the almonds and oats.

Apple, dried cranberry and almond loaf

It's not a very moist loaf though, and the next day it seemed to have dried out. In the DVD, Bill suggested toasting it and eating it with ricotta. I tried toasting a slice and found that it helped revive it (plus it smelt amazing). Worth a try if you're after something for morning/afternoon tea. Or maybe even breakfast!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Lime coconut syrup cake

Lime coconut syrup cake

A few years ago we lived in Fitzroy, in a little house with a little courtyard. There wasn't much to the courtyard out back: a few bushes, brick paving, and a lime tree. We never looked after the tree - didn't even water it - but it seemed to thrive on neglect. When it fruited, there were so many limes I couldn't get rid of them fast enough. I kept forcing limes on people; bags and bags and bags of the bloody things.

At our place now, I have another lime tree, but mine hasn't fruited yet. So it's back to buying limes for us. I bought a bag the other week, and haven't found much to do with them apart from putting wedges in a drink. To ease my guilt over having so many limes sitting around, I decided to use up a few in a cake.

The cake is a fairly simple butter cake with lime syrup poured over it while still warm. While some of the syrup is absorbed, I think it would've been better if I had poked some holes in the cake first. I also think it would've been better if half of the syrup had been reduced down further to be used as a glaze. Ho hum. We went over to our friends' place for pizza and took the cake for dessert. Everyone seemed happy with it. I left the rest of the cake there, and I was told later that a piece was eaten for breakfast. Hearing that made me strangely happy!

(The garnish on top is shredded coconut tossed in a few drops of red food colouring. The plate that the cake is sitting on was a Xmas present from my boss a couple of years ago. It's a beautiful plate, but when I took it out for the cake I saw there was a scratch on it. Boo.)

Lime coconut syrup cake

Lime coconut syrup cake

From Australian Women's Weekly Bake

Serves 8

125g butter, softened
1 tablespoon finely grated lime rind
1 cup (220g) caster sugar
3 eggs
1 3/4 cups (260g) self raising flour
1 cup (90g) desiccated coconut
1/2 cup (125ml) yoghurt
1/2 cup (125ml) milk

Tangy lime syrup
1/3 cup (80ml) lime juice
3/4 cup (165g) caster sugar
1/4 cup (60ml) water

Preheat oven to 180°C/160°C fan-forced. Grease 2cm baba pan well.

Beat butter, rind and sugar in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Stir in sifted flour, coconut, yoghurt and milk, in two batches. Spread mixture into pan.

Bake cake about 45 minutes or until cooked through. Stand cake in pan for 5 minutes; then turn out onto a wire rack over a tray.

Make the tangy lime syrup; drizzle hot syrup over the hot cake.

Tangy lime syrup: Stir ingredients in a small saucepan over heat, without boiling, until sugar dissolves. Simmer, uncovered, without stirring for 3 minutes.

French onion muffins (and pumpkin soup)

Cold weather always makes me crave soup. I have a couple of soups on rotation during the cold months and one of those is an easy, peasy pumpkin soup.

It basically involves softening some diced onion and garlic in a bit of oil. Then I add peeled and diced pumpkin to the pot, add just enough water to cover the pumpkin, plus a couple of teaspoons of vegetable stock powder. This gets simmered until the pumpkin is soft. Then I mush everything up with a stick blender, season with salt and pepper and add a teaspoon of curry powder (just enough to give it a slight flavour - not too much). We normally eat the soup with a bit of sour cream on top.

The hardest thing about making this soup is peeling the skin off the pumpkin. It's such a tedious job but made easier with a sharp knife.

French onion muffins

To go with the soup, I usually make French onion muffins. The recipe that I use comes from a little muffin book that I bought from a discount shop a few years ago (back when it wasn't as easy to find recipes online). The book cost me $1! Onion muffins are the only muffins I've ever made from the book, but it's still been $1 well spent!

French onion muffins

French Onion Muffins

From Marvellous Muffins by Robyn Martin

Makes 10

2 medium onions
2 tablespoons oil
50g butter
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup grated gruyere cheese

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Peel onions and cut into thin rings. Heat oil in a frying pan and fry onions over medium heat until golden. Add butter to pan and melt. Remove from heat and set aside.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the centre of dry ingredients. Lightly beat eggs and milk. Add onion and egg mixtures to dry ingredients. Add the grated cheese, reserving some for sprinkling on top of the muffins. Mix quickly until just combined.

Three quarters fill greased muffin pans with mixture. Sprinkle over the rest of the cheese and bake for 15 minutes or until cooked. Eat warm.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Cafe Plum: 5

Cafe Plum

Do you find that sometimes you get bored with things that you enjoy? Fortunately that hasn't happened so far with our favourite cafĂ© – Plum. The boys and I went there for brunch (again) the other weekend, and I wasn't intending to blog about it since I've already raved about here, here, here AND here. And really, how many different ways can you find of saying, "this place is great"?

Me, being me, I took photos of the food anyway, even though I wasn't going to blog the meal. Yeah, I know, I think it might be a compulsion.

Cafe Plum

Alastair ordered the French toast with bacon and (real) maple syrup (about $13 from memory). His meal came out first, and I snuck a bite after taking a quick photo. I'm glad I took a photo because:

Oh. My. God. Best French Toast Ever.

The inside of the bread was perfectly cooked and soft, but the outer edge was crispy. It was fragrant with just the right amount of cinnamon, and the sweetness was perfectly judged. So good!

Cafe PlumCafe Plum

It was lunch time by the time we arrived (we slept in!) so Bro and I ordered off the lunch specials board. I had the potato and ricotta fritters with smoked salmon, horse radish, creme fraiche and tomato and chive salsa ($16.50). Bro had the rigatoni with meatballs in a rich tomato sauce ($16.50).

Our meals were good, but Bro and I had food envy after we tasted Alastair's French toast. Normally neither of us would order a sweet brunch, but when Alastair couldn't finish his French toast, we polished it off for him!

After we finished, Franco (the owner/chef) came up for a chat and – get this – asked us if we had a blog. And, what's more, asked if it was this one. Totally found out! :)

On the last Sunday of the colder months, Cafe Plum does a roast dinner. We always intended to go, but never got around to it. It just so happened that the following night was the May roast dinner. Franco started telling us what was on the menu - duck. As soon as the Boys heard duck they were sold (they love it).

So the next evening, we went back to Plum for dinner! It was a three course set menu ($38). There was a vegetarian option, which we didn't try.

Cafe Plum

The first course was a beetroot soup with goats cheese crostini. Look at the beautiful colour in that soup! The soup was thick with a bit of sweetness and perfect for a cold Sunday evening.

Cafe Plum

The main course was a roast duck confit with marsala glaze and served with a parsnip gratin. Everyone received a large maryland and the small drumstick pictured. I've mentioned before that I'm not a big fan of duck, but I really enjoyed this. The duck wasn't very gamey, with the hint of marsala complementing the slight gaminess, and the flesh was moist and tender.

The parsnip gratin was eggy and cheesy with the flavour of the parsnip fairly subtle. It was a large slab and very filling!

Cafe Plum

There was also some crunchy, dressed greens - snow peas, green beans and spinach.

Cafe Plum

Dessert was a choice between cheese or a pannetone pudding with chocolate ice cream and custard. I had the pudding. A posh bread and butter pudding, it was sweet and rich, plus soft and almost gooey in the middle. There were occasional bits of glorious crunchy toffeed crust.

Cafe Plum

The cheese was a Gorgonzola with spiced walnuts and crackers. The Gorgonzola was very tingly and pungent!

I think the next roast dinner is on Sunday 29 June. Call to check (and book). We had a great time, and will definitely go again.

Cafe Plum
193 Flemington Rd, North Melbourne 3051
Ph: (03) 9329 8867

Ichipan Crepes

Ichipan Crepes

On one of the laneways down to the Melbourne Central train station (off Swanston Street) is Ichipan Crepes. Brightly lit, with a red colour scheme and plastic food in the window, they sell crepes – savoury crepes, sweet crepes; hot crepes, cold crepes.

Ichipan Crepes

If you're feeling adventurous, there's a number of savoury crepes – tuna, ham, or curry chicken might appeal (or not). I reckon that the sweet crepes are far more worthy of stomach space. The sweet crepes are divided into hot and cold, with a selection of fillings such as fruit, custard, ice cream, whipped cream or nutella.

Ichipan Crepes

Crepes range in price from about $4.50-$7.00. There always seems to be many people loitering around in the small shop, so after you order, you get a number and wait a couple of minutes while they make the crepes to order. The crepes are made, filled, and then wrapped up tightly in a paper cone.

Ichipan Crepes

My favourite fillings are ice cream, custard, and fruit - normally banana (which is, out of interest, priced higher than the other fruit fillings). I really like the cold sharpness of the ice cream in the soft crepe. The crepes are sweet and spongey and quite large. The size, plus the fact that they're quite junky, make them good to share (unless you're feeling particularly hungry!). They're a good occasional, guilty treat on the way home.

Ichipan Crepes
L1, Shop 148 Knox Place,
Melbourne Central, Melbourne

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Food I've been eating

Yey! It's time for another food round up post (aka I've got a backlog of photos).

So what have I been eating? Well, it appears that eggs have been featuring heavily.

Boiled eggs

There's been boiled eggs with toast soldiers.

Scrambled eggs

There's been scrambled eggs topped with feta, cooked Gordon Ramsey style.

Scrambled eggs

And served on toast, of course. I really like toast! If I lived by myself, I could see myself having cheese on toast for dinner most nights.

It's a good thing I have people to cook for!

Check out the video for Gordon Ramsey's explanation on how to make the perfect scrambled eggs.

Savoury French Toast

More egg (and bread) - one weekend I made savoury French toast. I put some grated cheese in the middle of two slices of bread, squished the bread flat, and then dunked the sandwiches into an egg mixture before pan frying. Yum!

Speaking of French toast, I have a post coming up where I'll tell you about the brunch where we had the most sublime French toast EVER. Also known as the brunch where I got blog outed!

Pot roast

Moving away from eggs, one weekend we had a beef pot roast for dinner. It looks strangely glossy, and I promise that I haven't being doing strange things like varnishing my food to take photos. I think it's glossy due to the gravy that I poured over.

I thought the meat was just okay - but the carrots and celery were super tasty!


With the pot roast we also had this potato thing. Sliced garlic was softened in butter in a frying pan, then I layered thinly sliced potatoes on top with more butter. After cooking on the stove for a while, the whole thing went under the grill to cook the top. Garlic, potato, butter... I would have to hang up my apron if it had turned out anything less than scrumptious. (Fortunately it was brilliant!)

Oxtail ragu

This is oxtail ragu on brown pasta. The last time I cooked oxtail, Alastair decided that it weirded him out and didn't want to eat it (even though he's eaten it before). Next time I make it, I'm going to take the meat off the bone and tell him it's normal beef!


And finally, this bowl was the last of the quinoa I had in the house. I know quinoa is very nutritious, and I've tried very hard to like it - but I just don't. So no more quinoa - huzzah!

Boiled eggs
Here's another shot of boiled eggs, because I like it, and I need to take my mind off quinoa. Note the gooey yolk - perfect for dunking toast soldiers!

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