Saturday, 30 March 2013

a cup of tea and a cupcake

a little treat was in order yesterday after two hard days slog
 tidying, rearranging and cleaning so i made cupcakes,
using a well loved recipe, to have with a cup of tea

have a safe and happy easter x

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

why would you bother?

this is a phrase that my son in law uses when he sees or hears of someone doing something he thinks is a waste of's a bit ironic really because he bothers a lot..he bothers welding bits of scrap metal together to make works of art and furniture..he bothers constructing a quirky metal frame on the flat roof of part of a building and then elevating an old canoe high up onto it and then using it as a planter..he bothers air brushing dozens of life sized wood cutout people..he bothers collecting and storing a huge amount of stuff for work related projects..he bothers project managing the internal construction and outfitting of  various bars and clubs in melbourne where he uses no working drawings or plans but works entirely from his imagination and memory..and he bothers having exhibitions..

'why would you bother' is now firmly entrenched in my children's and my vernacular and it's aways guaranteed a laugh..yesterday when i picked my second and last crop of elderberry umbels for the season with a view to making elderberry jelly i imagined my son in law looking at the seven umbels and saying 'why would you bother?' and those living in lands where they grow like weeds might think the same..but, people, it's not the same deal here in australia..elderberries don't grow everywhere..

there's a bit of irony in where i first discovered wasn't in the uk where i once lived or other parts of europe that i've visited where i know they grow..the first place i found them was 10 years ago in daylesford, in north west victoria, while on a bush walk where i noticed 5-6 trees growing wild along with a few neglected vines..exotic fruit growing in among australian bush might seem a bit odd but the area was once part of the era of the heady gold rush..

i didn't know what the fruit was when i picked the first umbels but i felt sure they were something edible so i took them home and looked the tree and fruit up in my trusty and well used book on fruit trees..when i found out they were indeed edible i boiled the few berries i had with a bit of sugar, strained the juice and had it on yoghurt..after tasting the syrup i planned on visiting again but i never did get back there (it was an 8 hour walk) so then i thought of growing one..four or five years ago when i was planting out my new garden the only place i could find an elderberry was through digger's garden club but i've noticed they're now more widely available..

sourdough semolina and yoghurt roll with elderberry jelly

why would you bother?

because waiting 10 years between tasting the delicious cooked berries again is a long time..and because the colour is truly would have been even darker and i think the flavour richer had i not used a granny smith apple along with the berries..hopefully next year i will have a bigger crop and i won't have to dilute the jelly with pomes..that's assuming the birds that carole away in it all day don't realise the berries are edible too..

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

porter cake

for as long as i've been cooking i've been interested in feast day foods from different cultures..the two cultures that i have had the most association with though are british and greek since my ancestral background is a mix of english and scottish (and french way back) and i've lived in greece, i married a greek man and i have three half greek a result i tend to recognise the feast days from these two cultures a lot more than others..

just this last sunday 17 march was st patrick's patrick, the patron saint of ireland, was the son of a roman tax collector who lived in wales and was captured at the age of sixteen and sold into irish slavery..he escaped though and entered the priesthood, returned to ireland and converted his capturers to christianity..

even though i don't have any irish blood the australian psyche is awash with irish narrative because of the large numbers of irish who came to australia during the early period of settlement and later on and the subsequent contribution they made to the australian way of life..

up until this week i was only aware of a few well known st patrick's day culinary traditions such as soda bread, beef and guiness, corned beef and cabbage and shepherd's pie..but while looking for other more obscure traditional foods i came across a cake called a porter cake that i'd not heard of before and so i made it out of interest and to celebrate the day..

porter is a type of dark beer that got it's name from its popularity with london's river and street porters.. it began being brewed in england and ireland in the 1700's and porter cake evolved sometime in the 1800's when it started being added to fruit cake..guinness seems to be the most common substitution for the harder to find porter which makes sense given that guinness was originally marketed as porter..

porter cake
from here
ingredients cake batter

175 gms butter
190 gms muscovado sugar
320 gms flour
100 gms sultanas
100 gms currants
100 gms raisons
100 gms dates chopped
300 mls guinness
3 eggs beaten
60 gms mixed peel
grated rind and juice of an orange
1 teaspoon (tsp) baking powder
2 tsp mixed spice

ingredients topping

20 gms muscovado sugar
almonds of choice (whole almonds, blanched, slivered or flaked)


~ line a deep 20 cm cm cake tin with 2 layers of brown paper and one of baking paper
~ place butter, dried fruit, guinness and orange juice and rind in a saucepan and slowly bring to the boil stirring
~ once boiling reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes then take off the heat and cool for 10 minutes
~ sift dry ingredients together
~ add a little of the still hot mix to the beaten eggs while stirring* well then slowly add the egg/hot mix to the saucepan mixing constantly to prevent curdling of the egg
~ fold in flour mix
~ spoon into cake tin, sprinkle with topping sugar and decorate with almonds as desired
~ bake at 160 deg centigrade for 1 1/2 hours covering the top after an hour to prevent the top burning
~ remove from oven and cool in the tin for 20 minutes and then remove the papers and cool on a wire rack

an interesting aspect of this cake which i'd not come across before was in the method where the heated mix was not completely cooled before the remaining ingredients were added..i've included an additional step (see *) not included in the recipe i used because there's a danger that unwary cooks could curdle the mix if all the egg is added at once..  

when i first cut this cake i didn't think i was going to like it because it looked too moist for my see, from what i've noticed, there seem to be two types of fruit cakes..the very moist solid ones and then the dryer lighter variety..and then there are the people who favour one more than the other..well, i'm definitely a dry cake aficionado..but i was surprised to find that even though it looked heavy and moist it was really good..and i wondered about the sugar on top..i thought it would just add to the overall sweetness of the cake but it added more in the way of a surprising and gentle crunch..overall it thought it had a lovely treacly flavour and it wasn't sickly sweet like i find some fruit cakes to be..

Sunday, 17 March 2013


fat's got a bad rap..housewives used to collect it from cooking meat and poultry and made soap or they sold it to tallow merchants who used it to make candles and soap often to be sold back to the housewives..the commercialisation of soap making though put an end to these practices..

in my grandmother's time and even as recently as when i was a child it was common practice for women to keep cooking fats stored in dripping tins and to use the 'dripping' in pastry making, roasting or as a spread for bread..for instance, i clearly remember the delicious flavour of beef or bacon dripping spread on a fresh slice of bread and sprinkled with salt and pepper..however, advances in our understanding of the effect of saturated fats on our health has meant these fats are largely discarded by most contemporary cooks..

years ago i stopped throwing fat before i use fatty meat scraps and bones for stock i roast them all and i collect the fat that collects at the bottom of the pan..i then strain it through muslin, clarify it by boiling it with water and then it gets refrigerated until there's enough tallow to add to a batch of soap..most of the meat and poultry i buy is free range and organic so i'm reasonably confident that my tallow is pesticide and chemical free..and the soap is really cheap..

marigold petal cold processed soap
tea with hazel


1325 gms tallow
500 gms copha
675 gms olive oil
345 gms sodium hydroxide
750 mls filtered water
1 cup dried home grown marigold petals


large stainless steel saucepan
plastic, glass or stainless steel container large enough to hold the water
2 thermometers
stainless steel mixing spoon
stick blender
mould/s of choice (i use a lidded plastic tub that i oil and line with baking paper)
blanket or old towels
protective clothing, eye ware and gloves
newspaper or other protective material for covering work surfaces
vinegar for neutralising any accidental splashes/spills
iced water bath


warning: make sure there are no children or animals around when working with sodium hydroxide

~ prepare the work area by covering with chosen protective covering
~ prepare mould/s
~ place tallow and copha in a large saucepan and melt over low heat
~ add olive oil and place thermometer in melted fat/oils
~ wearing protective clothing, eye ware and gloves pour the sodium hydroxide into the water, stir and add second thermometer 

~ the fumes given off during the initial reaction when the sodium hydroxide is added to the water are potentially damaging to the respiratory system and mucous membranes so this is best done in a well ventilated room or outside  
~ do not add the water to the sodium hydroxide because it can be explosive
~ once the sodium hydroxide is added the solution is very hot

~ the aim is to now get the two mixtures to about 50-52 degrees centigrade at the same time..i find the best way to do this is to place the container of lye (sodium hydroxide and water) in an ice bath once the fat/oil mix has cooled to about 65 degrees centigrade..a close watch is required so that one of the mixtures doesn't cool too much..if this happens it needs to be heated in a bain marie..
~ once the two mixes are at the required temperature slowly add the lye to the fat/oils while mixing
~ mix either with a spoon or a stick blender until trace..trace is seen to have occurred when a drizzle of the mix leaves an impression on the top of the main mixture..trace time varies considerably but mixing with a stick blender tends to shorten trace time..i stirred this batch constantly for the first 10 minutes, then briefly every 10 minutes for 40 minutes and then because it was taking so long i opted for using the stick then traced within 2 or so minutes
~ once trace has been achieved add marigold petals (this is the time when essential oils and other additives such as ground oats, clay and so on are also added)
~ pour the soap into the mould, place the lid on and insulate well for 24 hours by which time it should have set firm
~ tip the soap out of the container and, wearing gloves, cut into usable sized pieces
~ store on a lined cake rack for 3-4 weeks, covered, and turn regularly by which time it will have matured and be ready to use

~ until the soap has matured it is still alkaline and potentially caustic
~ if the soap has any liquid pockets it should be discarded..the liquid will be caustic and the soap cannot be salvaged


ingredients            cost $
tallow                                0
copha                                5
olive oil                            3
sodium hydroxide       3
marigold petals            0
total                                  11/32 = $0.34 per bar

further reading: i have only covered the basics in this post..following are a few links that might be of use: (i find this my most useful link because the calculator works out the amount of liquid and sodium hydroxide after the fats/oils are keyed in) (a bit of information on additives) (useful for converting centigrade to fahrenheit and vice versa) (troubleshooting)

every time i make cold processed soap it never ceases to amaze me how a caustic substance like sodium hydroxide and greasy tallow and/or oils combine to create a sudsy, cleansing and lovely gentle on my skin almost seems like alchemy..

Thursday, 14 March 2013

frugal by choice

3 left over egg whites

3 dozen crunchy almond macaroons with amaretto

one $14 box of tomatoes

12 jars of tomato puree
1 large jar of dried tomatoes in olive oil
several glasses of tomato juice (a by product of preparing the tomatoes)
 served with chilli flakes, pepper, salt and worscestershire sauce

about 2 kilos of plums picked from an abandoned orchard and a few apples picked from trees growing by the side of the road

3 jars of plum/apple jelly
 plum 'ice cream' made by processing plum/apple pulp from jelly making
with a frozen banana and drizzled with honey
a quick sweet made with sweetened pureed plum/apple pulp and
 a vanilla egg custard with a sprinkle of cinnamon

Thursday, 7 March 2013

yeasted blackberry and apple bread

i bought some apples a couple of weeks ago..i got excited thinking they might be new seasons granny smiths because for me new season's apples and pears herald autumn..the gentle season..the season of muted colours and even temper and clarity in the air.. but even as i bought them they didn't look quite right but i went ahead anyway getting ahead of myself and the seasons..

they sat lingering for ages until i cut one up to see if they were salvageable..inside they were streaked brown through out and looked momentarily as if destined for the compost bin..but me being me just couldn't do that so i cut them up and threw them into a pot with a bit of water and cooked them, mashing them occasionally, until they were soft..i had no idea what i was going to do with them at this stage but i was considering apple jelly..after straining the pulp for 24 hours i had a lovely not brown at all liquid that tasted delicious..

my apple juice thoughts danced here and there but the one thought that stopped me in my tracks was the idea of putting the apple juice in a loaf of bread..that thought was added to another and another..i had more blackberries from another foraging session with one of my daughters and i now had proper new seasons granny' thoughts settled and blackberry and apple bread was made..

blackberry and apple bread
tea with hazel


bread dough

400 gms strong bread making flour
100 gms wholemeal flour
apple juice (strained from poaching apples in a little water and lemon juice)
1/2 teaspoon (tsp) yeast
11/2 tablespoons ( tbs) salt (murray river)


2 medium granny smith apples
1 tbs sugar
1/2 cup blackberries
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup freshly ground almond meal
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest


1 tbs blackberry jelly
1 tbs boiling water
1 tsp gelatine
1 tsp lemon juice


~ mix flour and yeast with enough apple juice to obtain a soft shaggy dough and leave for 10 minutes
~ add salt, mix briefly, rest for 10 minutes
~ mix briefly once more, remove bowl from mixer, cover with greased cling film, and leave until the dough has doubled
~ remove the dough from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface and do one stretch and fold then rest for 15 minutes
~ repeat the stretch and fold cycle twice more
~ dice small the peeled and cored apples and cook with the sugar until just softening
~ mix the bread crumbs, almond meal and lemon
~ roll the dough into an oblong, sprinkle with bread crumb mix, and dot with blackberries and apple
~ roll the dough up sealing the end with a little water
~ place in a greased bread baking tin and leave until doubled or until a finger pressed into the dough leaves an impression
~ bake at 220 deg c (bread baking function) with steam for 25 minutes
~ reduce heat to 180 deg c and continue to bake for a further 20 minutes covering with foil if browning too much
~ mix the glaze ingredients well until the gelatine is dissolved using a bain marie if necessary
~ glaze the loaf as soon as removed from the tin


~ i purposely didn't add any sugar to the dough or the bread crumb mix because i didn't want a sweet loaf
~ i cut the loaf way too soon so it looks a bit doughy in the photo
~ for me the flavours worked well..not too sweet with a lovely apple and blackberry flavour that wasn't eclipsed by the subtle but welcome hint of lemon

it doesn't feel like autumn here in melbourne with temperatures over 30 deg c for another week but it's not going to stop me celebrating its imminent arrival..

this post submitted to yeast spotting

Saturday, 2 March 2013

queasy free cumquat cupcakes

a friend of mine and i were travelling around the island of corfu on mopeds many decades evening after a long day in the saddle we arrived in a tiny village and proceeded to look for sustenance only to find that the only eating establishment in the village had been booked out for a wedding..we hung around the front of the taverna like ravenous beasts sniffing the air as delicious wafts of charcoal roasted lamb floated past our nostrils when one of the wedding party invited us to join them ..i don't remember eating anything that evening although i must have but i do remember having many shots of cumquat liqueur which is a particularly sickly alcoholic beverage and a speciality of the island..and i also recall dancing a lot..

as the last guests left we realised that we hadn't even thought about accommodation and i realised i was missing one of my sandals..who knows when i'd even taken them off..anyway, undaunted, we hopped on to our trusty steeds and zoomed off into the night in search of a suitable place to sleep..

the next bit is really clear to me..i was woken, hungover, by the furnace like heat of the sun..bleary eyed i looked around and saw that we had slept in an olive grove and that in the distance was a small dwelling and emerging from it was an old lady who started walking towards us..i thought she was on her way over to tell us to get off her property but she turned around and disappeared from view..after a while she reappeared and started walking towards us again but this time she was carrying something..

our contrition over trespassing was eclipsed by curiosity so we stayed put and waited for her to reach us..she arrived smiling and talking greek to us with a pail full of just extracted steaming goat's milk which she beseeched us to drink..we didn't want to appear ungrateful and so, despite our hangovers, we took turns to drink from the pail..when she left my friend looked very queasy and she..well..i think you can guess what happened..

queasy free cumquat cupcakes 
tea with hazel



150 gms self raising flour sifted
55 gms plain flour sifted
155 gms castor sugar
155 gms unsalted butter
2 eggs
50 mls milk
25 mls cumquat infused brandy*
1 teaspoon (tsp) vanilla extract

cumquat curd**

2/3 cup castor sugar
60 gms unsalted butter yolks 4 eggs
100 mls cumquat juice
2 tsp cumquat zest


double cream
crushed candied cumquat peel



cream butter and castor sugar until pale and fluffy
~ beat in eggs one at a time 
~ add flours, milk, brandy and vanilla and beat until mixture is smooth
~ divide the mix between 12 cupcake cases and bake at 175 deg c for approximately 15 minutes or until golden and cooked in the centre 

cumquat curd

~ beat the sugar and egg yolks until well incorporated
~ place in the top of a double boiler with other ingredients and cook until thickened


~ cut a cone from the centre of each cupcake 
~ place a large tsp of cumquat curd in the cavity
~ top with a tsp of double cream
~ sprinkle with crushed candied cumquat peel


*   a year ago i unfused cumquats with brandy, sugar, a cinnamon stick and a few cloves
** adapted from a recipe in 'a cooks' companion' stephanie alexander 

i made these after a request for cupcakes by a friend as part of a birthday dinner
by the way..beware of greeks bearing pails of milk..