Thursday, 8 August 2013

Source code: recipes found through the media

Lemon blondies - sticky enough but not quite as sticky as I would have liked.
Back in the day, if you wanted a recipe for a particular dish, you had to have a cookbook. And if you didn’t have that cookbook, you had to go out and get it. The other rich source of recipes was women’s magazines and I can’t have been the only one with a guilty look on my face as I tried to rip out the page with the desired recipe upon it while trying not to alert the whole of the doctor’s/dentist’s waiting-room to what I was doing.
The cookbook that we used most when I was growing up was this classic, Mary Berry’s Hamlyn All-Colour Cookbook. With the first edition published in 1970, it will come as no surprise to you that a lot of tins and packets are involved. And let’s not forget how much fun there is to be had with aspic.
It must be said that as a cookbook for a beginner it was as good a book  as one could hope for, especially where cakes and desserts were concerned. It has a place in my heart as much for practicality’s sake as for nostalgia. If you were called upon to cook, you could always find something in there. When I moved out of home, I tracked down a copy and bought one for myself.
The first cookbook that was actually mine was the nutritionally-bankrupt and whimsical “My Fun to Cook Book” by the wonderfully-named Ursula Sedgwick. It was a Christmas gift from some family friends and I kept it for years.

The orange, mustard, and brown psychedelic bat-wing blouse that the girl on the cover is wearing will tell you everything you need to know about the publication date. In fact, I think I had that same blouse or at least one that was very similar.
In “My Fun to Cook Book” the young would-be cook was guided through the recipes by a cartoon cat and dog. There were such gems as “Pineapple Jelly” (Buy a packet of pineapple jelly, dissolve in a pint of boiling water, pour into a bowl, put into the fridge until set) and “Sugar Bread” (Spread one piece of white bread with margarine, sprinkle with white sugar until covered, place under the grill until sugar turns brown) and other 1970’s culinary tragedies. The dog and the cat would pop up every now and then with salient warnings such as:

If you are not sure how to use a kettle, ask your mother to help you!


Don’t eat this too quickly – grilled sugar can be VERY, VERY hot!

These days, of course, I have a more diverse collection of cookbooks (and I no longer own any orange-and-brown psychedelic blouses) but truth of the matter is that if I am looking for a recipe, I am more likely to search for one online before I do anything else. If I see a recipe that I want in a magazine, I will usually take a photograph of it, or use a text scanning app to record it.

Which brings us to the present day and a couple of recipes that I came upon and wanted to try. The first, red bean soup and cornbread, was in the Fresh (i.e. cooking) section of the local newspaper, The West Australian, which was on the staffroom table at work. The other, the lemon blondies, was shared on Facebook, by Megan of LittleSweet Baking.


In a more retro approach than I intended, I took a photocopy of the recipe from the newspaper although that isn't quite as retro as ripping the page out of the paper and taking it home. Besides, a few of my colleagues wanted copies of their own which meant I couldn't just steal it (Thief by name but not by nature). So I resorted to good ol’ fashioned Xerox because the scale was too big to get the right focus with the camera on my phone. I originally copied it because I wanted the recipe for the cornbread (which looked great in the newspaper colour supplement but was, understandably, less exciting in the black-and-white copy) but when I got home, I decided to make the red bean soup as well because it looked easy and low-cost as well as tasty.

As it turned out, the soup was the easier to make than the cornbread which, while very it was a very straightforward recipe, didn’t have quite the right quantities. It needed more salt and less moisture. It was a little on the bland side, and, when cut, didn’t hold its shape very well. It was impossible to get the neat slices that were shown in the newspaper photograph.
Next time, I would add a good measure of salt and perhaps some chopped jalapeno. I’d also up the quantity of flour by about 50 – 100grams. On the night, however, I fixed the problem by slathering everything with salty melted butter and pretending that it was meant to be that way.
The lemon brownie recipe had suffered from a similar problem. It had evidently been through more than a few Facebook ‘shares’ and translations from imperial to metric and out again. It called for an 8” x 8” cake-pan, listed icing sugar in the ingredients section but referred to powdered sugar in the actual recipe and instructed that the sugar be ‘filtered’.
I did what I could to fix it up. In fact the first thing that I did were to double the quantities because otherwise there would not have been much to go around. Perversely, considering what happened to the cornbread, the mixture turned out to be too dry (or the oven was too hot) and the glaze too sloppy. I ended up with something more like my lemon sour cream syrup cake than a brownie (or blondie which is what I have been told is the technical term for a brownie mix that has no chocolate in it). It was fine to eat – superbly sour – but not as sticky through the centre as I’d hoped.

Kept overnight in the fridge, the blondies completely dried out. Happily, this problem was easily fixed by putting a couple of squares of chocolate (Lindt 70%) on top of them and sending them for a quick whirl in the microwave. The result – hot lemon and dark chocolate slice. I think this was better than the idea of a lemon blondie.
The recipes for the soup, cornbread, and blondies are all below.

Of course, in sharing these recipes with you, I thought I was being very modern, taking screen-shots with my phone, linking to various other sites, posting the recipes on my blog. It was all going to be so cool and hip and NOW.

Then a friend told me about how she collates all her online recipes on her Pinterest account which made me feel incredibly behind the times again.

Someone call Ursula Sedgwick and tell her I want my batwing blouse back...
Lemon blondies
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1.5 cup plain flour
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 4 tbsps lemon zest
  • 4 tbsps lemon juice
  • 1.5 cups caster sugar
  • 1 tssp sea salt
  • (for the glaze)
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 4 tbsp lemon zest
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • Preheat oven to 170C.
  • Grease and line a 18cm x 28cm slice tin
  • Zest and juice lemons and set aside
  • Cream butter and sugar until pale then slowly add beaten eggs one at a time until all combined. Add salt, lemon zest and lemon juice. Then slowly add flour until mixture is smooth and creamy.
  • Pour into slice tin and bake for 15 - 20 minutes checking every now and then. When just set around the edges, remove and allow to cool completely.
  • Sieve the icing sugar and whisk with the lemon juice until smooth. Add the lemon est. Spread this over the cooled blondies and allow to set.
  • Cut into bars and serve.
 Red Bean Soup
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 red chilis, finely chopped
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 750ml tomato sugo
  • 425g can of kidney beans
  • Heat oil in a large saucepan, add onion and cook for 2-3 minutes until soft. Add garlic and chili and cook for one minute.
  • Add stock, sugo, and kidney beans. Stir to combine. Bring heat to the boil, then reduce heat to a simmer for 25 minutes.
  • Serve hot with sour cream or crème fraiche.
Corn bread

  • 150g self-raising flour
  • 175g polenta
  • 100g goat's cheese, crumbled
  • 310g can creamed corn
  • 2 chilis, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
  • 175ml buttermilk
  • 50g melted butter

  • Sift flour & polenta into a mixing bowl. Add goat's cheese, corn, chili, coriander, buttermilk, and butter.
  • Stir to combine
  • Transfer to a greased loaf tin and bake for 45 minutes.
  • Serve warm.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Mad scientists: matcha self-saucing pudding.

Warning: this post contains images that might be offensive to some readers.
12 year old and I were plotting. We needed pudding and we needed it stat! Problem – there was no pudding in the house and it was nearly bed-time for one of us.
“We could make one,” I said, reaching for my phone and opening up a search engine, “I’ve heard about self-saucing puddings that you can make really quickly in a coffee mug in the microwave.”
“Can we do that?” he said.
“Why not?”
We found this recipe that fulfilled all our requirements. It was a pudding, it could be done in the microwave. It was fast. Also it was about a mother cooking with her son, so it seemed appropriate.
“I’ll check if we have all the ingredients,” said 12 year old.
He pulled out the SR flour from the pantry, ran to get the milk from the fridge, grabbed the sugar bowl, reached for…
No cocoa powder.
But we did have the matcha latte left over from making the jasmine and matcha delice.

“That would be awesome,” he said.
We mixed it up, poured on the boiling water, and put it in the microwave, carefully setting the timer for 30 seconds. Then we watched through the glass as the mug moved around.
After the ping, we opened the door and peered into the mug.
“Doesn’t look like much has happened,” he said.
“Needs a bit more time,” I suggested, “10 or 20 seconds?”
“15,” he compromised.
But at 10 seconds, the mixture started to rear its ugly head over the rim of the mug. I hit the stop button and took it out, poked it with a finger.
“Seems cooked. Now we have to tip it into a bowl.”
We inverted the mug over the bowl. The pudding fell into it with a wet thunk.
There was a moment’s horror and a whisper of “It looks like someone sneezed” before we both started laughing. I honestly can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard. I had to cling to the bench-top to stop myself from falling over.
When people talk about primordial slime, they are probably thinking about something that looks like this.
I have never seen anything quite as grotesque in my kitchen before. It was like a parody of everything that I aspire to as an amateur baker.
“Who’s going to taste it first?” he said, wrinkling his nose.
“I will.”
I took a teaspoon and pushed it into the pudding. It was definitely pudding. It had definitely self-sauced. A trickle of pond-weed coloured liquid ran over the sides.
“It probably looks better when you use cocoa,” he said.
But it tasted fine. Better than fine. I had some. He had some. We gave the rest to 16 year old who didn’t give a damn about the fact that it looked like a massive lump of snot. He finished it off and licked the bowl clean.
At bed-time, 12 year old was in a good mood.
“Did you clean your teeth?” I asked, “Get all that green stuff off them?”
“I did, “ he said, then, “That was really fun!”
“You have to experiment," I say in my best parental-fountain-of-wisdom-voice, “That’s how you learn.”
“And tomorrow, can you buy some cocoa?”
“First chance I get, darling. First chance I get.”

Perfect matcha: Secret Cake Club again!

Here’s how my day goes:

7am: tea – Taylors of Harrogate or Twinings Earl Grey (with milk, no sugar) or something herbal, peppermint is nice.

Between 9am – 11am (depending on how busy my day is) long black coffee or a café mocha. Barista-made is best but there's a decent little machine at work.

Between 1pm - 2pm: another coffee

3pm: always tea

Upon arrival at home: tea again

I think of this as a balanced diet.

The mid-morning coffee and the 3pm cuppa are the most essential. You’ve heard the term ‘gasping for tea’? Well, by 3pm each day, I am not merely gasping, more moving into a state of extreme hyperventilation but with enough air to spare a snarl and a snort for anyone who gets between me and the kettle.

You can see then that the ‘Cuppa Joe’ themed Secret Cake Club is one that I had to attend. The idea was to either bake something using tea or coffee or that would go well with tea and coffee. This gave all the bakers a wide enough scope to do pretty much what they wanted.

My dilemma was a basic one: to use tea or coffee as an ingredient? Coffee is one of my favourite flavours especially when paired with chocolate. I love a coffee crème, I adore a coffee éclair, and a bitter-sweet tiramisu will not last long if I am around. However, I had never cooked much using tea although I am a great consumer of the drink, so I decided it would be interesting to extend my repertoire in this way.

I chose this matcha and jasmine delice simply because it looked so pretty. The strata of pale-green and white mousse on the pistachio base; the promise of delicate floral scent and the smokiness of tea; the richness of white chocolate – I was completely sold on the description.

The problem was that, gorgeous as the cake appeared, the recipe wasn’t particularly helpful. The pistachio cake, as described below, would have been better with either more flour or less butter. When I went to remove it from the oven, it was bubbling oil which I had to mop off with a piece of kitchen towel. I also ended up using a lined slice-tin as I wasn’t sure how I was going to layer the mousse otherwise.
For the pistachio cake base:

- 80g ground pistachios
- 80g butter, softened
- 75g sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 small egg
- 10g cornflour
- 10g plain flour

1. Pre-heat your oven to 170 degrees celcius.
2. Cream the butter and sugar together.
3. Add in the large egg.
4. Fold in the sifted flours and ground pistachio mixture, a Tablespoon at a time.
5. Fold in the small egg.
6. Bake for 10-15 minutes on a sheet pan.

Note: my mould was quite small (8" by 8"), I'd recommend using a larger rectangular mould to yield a shorter cake as the layers are pretty rich.

The mousse was more straightforward. I’d been lucky enough to find titanium strength gelatine leaves while I was on holiday in Margaret River recently and bought a packet to bring back to the city with me. For the white mousse, I had a small packet of jasmine leaf balls. For the green mousse, I bought a tub of matcha latte rather than use straight matcha powder (which can be a tad intense).


I found that when I was making the mousse, the liquid did not actually stay hot long enough to completely melt the white chocolate. I had to resort to (gasp!) the microwave which I hate to use unless I absolutely have to.

Jasmine Mousse:
3T Hot water
2T Jasmine Leaves
2T glucose, or corn syrup
150g white chocolate
300g whipped cream, soft peaks
2 gelatine leaves, softened in cold water

1. Infuse the hot water with the jasmine tea leaves for 10 minutes. Strain this mixture.
2. Heat the tea along with the glucose until it comes to a boil.
3. Remove from heat and stir in the softened gelatine leaves. Pour this mixture over the white chocolate to melt it.
4. Fold in the whipped cream.

Matcha Mousse:
- Made using the exact same recipe and format, except you replace 2T of the jasmine leaves with 2T of matcha powder/green tea leaves.

Assemble the cake, first layering with half of the jasmine mousse and all the matcha mousse. Finish off with the remaining jasmine mousse.
The layering was also an issue. I had much more mousse than I needed and there was no instruction about whether or not I needed to chill it in between spreading on the layers. Those lovely clear strata? They were not to be. Everything was rather smudgy I wondered if there was enough gelatine in the mix. Next time I will use more. The left-over mousse was poured into bowls and allowed to set.

My trusty assistant and a bowl of left-over matcha mousse.
Taste test: first I sampled some of the left-over mousse. It was knock-me-down wonderful. What would have been overly-sweet as just a white chocolate mousse was nicely tempered by the bitterness of the matcha. The colour was very pretty - a pastel-green very reminiscent of sugared almonds. The jasmine version was also pleasant though not as strong as the matcha one. Then I cut myself a little section of the actual delice. Even without the clean layers, it was different and delicious. 

Layers somewhat obscured but the taste is the thing!

Secret Cake Club was held at Studio Bomba in Leederville and what a Secret Cake Club it was! The amazing Jacqui who organises Cake Club had recently done an interview on 720 ABC Perth and this, along with an ever-increasing social media presence, had pushed the number of attendees to the maximum.
The cut-up delice ready for Cake Club

There was a table full of cake, a sideboard full of cake, a mantelpiece laden with cake. There was coffee-cake, tea cakes, biscotti, donuts...

It was impossible to try every cake that was there, so I settled for trying a few (my absolute favourites on the day were the Portuguese tarts) and then playing "cake Tetris" where you artfully stack your Tupperware to ensure maximum take-home variety and quantity.

Cake Tetris - it's this random skill that I have.

It was great to have the space that Studio Bomba offered. They are a gift shop and art space as well as a café, and this meant that  not only could we use their gorgeous studio for Cake Club, but also to shop for lovely things.

I came home with this:

The angle makes it look massive but it is actually a cute little pendant. We had a TV like this when I was little. And remember test cards?

It was great to be part of the new super-sized Secret Cake Club and I am looking forward to the next event which is cocktail themed. You all know that I am partial to a well-made cocktail.

Right now though, I'm gasping for tea.

My favourite mug. Bonus point if you know what the symbol represents...

The Strawberrythief - the real one

I couldn't resist posting this meme which was sent to me by the lovely Liv from Colpanna.

After I finished laughing, I started to worry that this might actually be what my ideal man looks like...


Monday, 5 August 2013

Can't bat, can't bowl, can't bocce: Urbanlocavore "Meet the Makers" event.

I introduce myself to the old Italian man standing in front of me.
“Pleased to meet you,” I say, “What’s your name?”
“Tony,” he smiles.
Then I turn to his friend, another old Italian man.
“And you are?”
Bocce in the gutters and a little red boccino.
It’s my first time at the Italian Club in Fremantle and it's another world and another time. I’m here for the Urbanlocavore “Meet the Makers Bocce & Bolognaise” event and, frankly, have no idea what to expect other than to be fed at some stage. I’m useless at sport especially where hand-eye coordination is involved and so, even though there is a trophy up for grabs, I’m mostly planning  to sit and be the best spectator that I can be. Last night, the Australian cricket team was comprehensively thumped by the English one. A lot of the conversation I can hear  this morning is about the Ashes and I'm full of admiration for any Australian who is willing to put themselves in a situation which involves bowling accuracy so soon after such a shameful national defeat.

I didn’t know places like the Italian Club existed.  Roughly half the entire premises  (on prime real estate down at Fremantle’s fishing boat harbour) is given over to the bocce courts. It’s like a massive covered warehouse with four asphalt lanes. Signs and scoreboards in English and Italian, but mostly Italian, cover the walls. “Financial members only”, “Bocce Club members only”, “I Campi Sono Occupati Gara Privata”.
Listening to the rules.

My scheme to be a spectator is quickly overturned as we are organised into teams of three and then sent to a court to play against another team. Each court is allocated one nonno to teach, to supervise, to score, and to make rude jokes about zucchini.
The rules for bocce are on Wikipedia but what we were taught seems only very loosely based on the official information. Add to this the fact that each nonno seems to have his own version of the rules and you can imagine how confusing things become at times.
In a nutshell, it’s like regular lawn bowls – you have to get your bocce closest to the jack (or, in this case, the boccino). Actually getting to that stage takes some doing. There are various target areas into which the boccino must be thrown; if you miss twice, your opponent gets to place the boccino where they like; the person who places the boccino is the first to bowl etc.
And don’t even get me started on the scoring.

Looks like - world's worst clock. Is actually - bocce scoreboard.
A few attempts later and people start to relax and have fun. I discover that my underarm bowling action sends the bocce veering way to the right every time, but an overarm wrist flick seems to do the trick and I am more accurate. I score points, actual points! There is high-fiving within my team, even though we lose our first game.
Some of us got very excited about our achievements!
It’s not fun to the nonnos though. It’s deadly serious stuff. Tony Number 1 gets down on his knees to measure a result with his special bocce measuring stick. He calculates it. He calculates it again. We wait with baited breath on his pronouncement. Then Tony Number 2 steps in, shaking his head, “No, no, no, again.” They both measure. Tony Number 2 stands up and calls for Santo.
Don't mess with this guy.
Santo is in charge. He has the extra-special extendable measuring stick and an extra-large gold crucifix around his neck. He has the bocce rules in his head and heart, and God on his side. He is not a man to mess with. That, however, doesn’t stop two more nonnos leaning over the fence to add their 2 cents to the debate. Santo turns to us and makes his decision with an elegant sweep of his wrist. The point is ours and we have won this game. Loud cheers!
After all the mental stress of trying to make a bocce roll in the right direction, I head to the bar with a couple of friends. It’s like the 1970s set up residence inside and never left. The giant sign over the counter sports both an endorsement of Emu bitter and a map of Italy. There’s also sangiovese for $5 a glass which is also very reasonable and pretty good after a morning walking up and down the breezy courts.


Lunch, when it arrives, is very necessary. We are all worn out by the play and the strategising (such as it is) and ready for some food. As it is a “Meet the Makers” lunch, Jeff and Paul from Urbanlocavore, have organised for some of the people who supplied the produce for the July Urbanlocavore box to talk to us.  It’s a nice idea but difficult to hear above the noise of all the ladies in the kitchen. That’s right – while the nonnos have been on court, all the nonnas have been in the kitchen, indulging their need to feed and cooking up a storm of pasta. Their need to talk (loudly) is almost as great. We can hear them shushing each other to get absolute quiet and failing entirely.
Grazie mille, nonnas!
As we hear from the producers of Princi Smallgoods, ThirdPillar Olive Oil, Juniper Estate Wines and Azzura Gelati, the lunch is served.  The anti-pasto and the dessert are the best parts of the meal, as it is easy to make the direct connection between what the maker has been talking about and the food in front of you. There are trays of cured meats to begin, and tiny gelati (in strawberry, chocolate, pistachio and Cointreau) cones to finish.
Jeff gets the speeches started.
There are bowls of ciabbata bread there but no olive oil to dip the bread in! One of the guys on our table has a quick word and manages to secure a small bottle of the Third Pillar oil which we pass up and down the rows to share.

Similarly, there is no Juniper Estate wine (which is sitting in tempting bottles up the front of the room) instead we have carafes of Coolabah decanted straight out of the box. Now, I try, I really try, not to be a wine snob, but I have been having some lovely chats with the Juniper Crossing rep via Twitter and they are half the reason that I have come along – to meet this particular maker. My cask-wine days are long-gone (left behind when I finished university) and, talking to the foodie-minded people around me, we come to the agreement that we would have gladly paid an extra $10 - $15 dollars on our tickets to have good wine in front of us.

In between the prosciutto and gelati, there is a pasta dish and a main. The pasta is penne with sugo and, I think, shredded chicken, but it isn’t immediately obvious. Still, it is basic and tasty. I’m sitting next to my friend, Katy, who is vegetarian, and she lets me try her pasta, then tells me off for getting all food-blogger on her and describing it as ‘more dynamic’. Certainly, it is a more strongly flavoured, piquant sauce on the vege version and very nice too (thank you, nonnas!).
However, any advantage Katy may have gained on the pasta is lost when it comes to the mains. While the rest of us are tucking into roast pork, roast vegetables and salad, the vegetarians are tucking into roast vegetables and salad and… extra roast vegetables. It would have been nice to see something like a slice of vege lasagne or perhaps a stuffed field mushroom or similar in the place where the pork would have been.  There is more to vegetarianism that just taking the meat away. This may not have occurred to the nonnas (being of a different generation) but is possibly something that the organisers should take on board for next time.
For the meat-eaters among us, the roast pork is really tender and fragrant. I am not sure whether the pork butcher is one of the 'makers' here today or not - I haven't heard - but they are definitely to be commended on a decent cut of meat.
Lunch is filling, and when it is over, we are told it is time to get back on the courts for the semi-finals and finals. I check the time. It is getting on for 3pm. The event was meant to be finished at 2.30pm and I have places to be. I hate to pike out as I am meant to be playing with my team in one of the semis, but I am already running late so we concede. I later find out that my friend, @chky_cel , wins the final with her team, and gets to hold the trophy for a photo op as well as take a couple of bottles of Juniper Crossing wine home with her.
And she’s not the only one who had a lucky day. As we sat down to eat, we were told that there was a door prize – a complete set of WA’s (now, alas, defunct) Spice magazine, some Gabriel chocolate, some Kate Lane panforte, a bottle of Juniper Estate Tempranillo, 2 litres of Third Pillar Estate Olive Oil, and a jar of lamb marinade – for the person who found a chilli hidden under their side plate. I lifted my plate and there it was: a little red chilli. The goodies were mine to take home and I was very pleased and grateful to have them.

My kind of prize.
It’s been a fun and interesting day - good to meet some new people, get educated about some of the produce that I have eaten, and also to try a new sport. As a first time event, the Urbanlocavore team gave it a red hot go and, with just a little work on the organisation and menu (all credit to them, it is a difficult kind of event to pull together), I am sure that the next one will be even better and I am looking forward to it already.
As I leave the courts, the nonnos are just getting ready to supervise the last games of the day. Tony and Tony are brushing down the asphalt and Santo is looking on: his extendable stick at the ready and his crucifix flashing in the early afternoon sunshine. For them, the serious part is just beginning.

For me, however, the serious part involves drinking Tempranillo, eating chocolate and reading food magazines.