Eggs For The Equinox

The September Equinox has come and gone, ushering one part of the world into autumn and the other into spring. I’m in the southern hemisphere so I celebrated the Spring Equinox.

Eggs are often featured at Spring Equinox celebrations as they are a symbol of life and rebirth. One of the ways I like to honour spring is by dyeing boiled eggs. Unlike the iconic red eggs for Easter, Equinox eggs are usually multicoloured, reflecting the many colours of spring as life is reborn after winter. After the Equinox, I wanted to make something special with the leftover boiled eggs.

After a bit of research I discovered a recipe for Creamed Eggs on Toast. The dish consists of chopped boiled eggs folded into a béchamel sauce and served over toast. There is a variation called Eggs Goldenrod which reserves the egg yolks so you can crumble them over the top of the finished dish. The golden colour of the yolks is meant to resemble the goldenrod flower. 

I wanted my yolks mixed into the béchamel sauce but chose to finish my dish with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese instead. This is a simple but delicious recipe that you can have fun experimenting with. 

Creamed Eggs on Toast

Ingredients
2 hard boiled eggs
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup milk
toast for serving
freshly grated parmesan for serving

Instructions
Peel and roughly chop the eggs.
Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
Add the flour and salt then whisk constantly until smooth and bubbly.
Gradually whisk in the milk and keep whisking until the mixture is smooth and thick.
Add the chopped eggs and stir until the eggs are warmed.
Serve over buttered toast and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Rusty’s International Red Panda Day

Saturday the 19th is International Red Panda Day. IRPD is held on the third Saturday in September each year and is a day to celebrate all things red panda! Zoos around the world join in the celebration with a mix of live and online activities. You can find out more about IRPD and heaps of other red panda stuff at the Red Panda Network.

This year I will be celebrating IRPD with a very special addition to my fluffy and felty family – Rusty the Red Panda. Rusty is a famous escape artist red panda who escaped from the Smithsonian National Zoo in 2013. Luckily he was found safe and sound. You can read about his adventure in this Washington Post article.

It is no surprise that such an infamous red panda would make his way into Anne Belov’s The Panda Chronicles. Rusty has appeared in a number of her cartoons and is portrayed as a red panda activist. When Anne starting making felty versions of her Chronicles characters, she included Rusty and his famous protest signs. I think he is the perfect embodiment of IRPD!

Rusty is looking forward to celebrating IRPD with his new mate Kevin the Scorched Koala, another Chronicles critter who has emigrated Down Under. You can read Kevin’s story in A Tale Of A Felted Koala.

Naturally I wanted to make a special recipe for my new felty friend. Rusty’s name brought back memories of one of my favourite drinks – the Rusty Nail, which is made by mixing Scotch whisky with Drambuie, a honey and herb infused whisky liqueur. While researching the Rusty Nail I came across a variation which substitutes bourbon for the Scotch whisky and is called a Rusty Bob. I laughed as Bob T. Panda is one of the key characters in The Panda Chronicles! I was going to make both Rusty Nails and Rusty Bobs but then made a giant leap and turned these delicious cocktails into a rich and creamy dessert I call a Rusty Bob Cranachan. 

Cranachan is a Scottish dessert that is a delicious mix of raspberries, cream, honey, oats and Scotch whisky. Drambuie is sometimes added as a sweet optional extra. My version definitely includes Drambuie but, in the tradition of a Rusty Bob, substitutes the Scotch whisky with bourbon. Purists will be shocked, but I’ve always liked to cook on the wild side!

Rusty Bob Cranachan

Ingredients
(serves two)
1 tablespoon oatmeal
125g raspberries
3/4 cup double cream
1 tablespoon bourbon
1/2 tablespoon Drambuie
1 teaspoon honey

Instructions
Toast the oats in a frying pan over medium heat. Toss occasionally, being careful not to burn them, until they just start to brown and smell nutty, then remove from the pan and set aside.
Whisk together the cream, whiskey and Drambuie until just firm.
Fold in the oatmeal.
Put a few raspberries aside for serving and fold the remaining raspberries into the cream, being careful not to over-whip the cream.
Place in serving glasses or bowls.
Refrigerate for one hour or until chilled.
Top with reserved raspberries and drizzle with honey. 

Happy International Red Panda Day!

A Memory Of Cake

One of the ways I reconnect with the Macedonian food of my childhood is through cookbooks. As I read the names of recipes and browse through the ingredients lists, memories of food and fun times come flooding back. I recently started reading The Melting Pot: Balkan Food and Cookery by Maria Kaneva-Johnson. Here, in the pages of this wonderful book, were some of my favourite foods. When I came across a recipe for Cake Soaked in Fragrant Milk, something odd clicked in me. What was strange was that it brought back a memory of a cake that I’m not sure I’ve ever actually had. No one in my family remembers it, but I was sure I had it at a Macedonian picnic. Could I be confusing it with another cake? I don’t know. All I know is that when I read the recipe it was familiar and I had to make it.

I followed the recipe and made a beautiful cake, but it was not the one I remembered. The cake from my memory had coconut so I made the cake again and added shredded coconut. This was close to the cake I remembered. I’m still not sure if this is a cake from my childhood but it is certainly a favourite cake and whenever I eat it I have memories of Macedonian picnics, delicious food and circle dancing with family and friends.

Milk Cake (Ravanija so Mlecko)

Ingredients
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
800ml milk
4 eggs
200g castor sugar
250g plain flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder, sifted
1/2 cup shredded coconut

Instructions
Mix the vanilla into the milk and refrigerate until the cake is cooked.
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Grease and flour a baking pan, approximately 20cm x 20cm.
Beat the eggs with an electric mixer. As they start to become frothy, add the sugar and beat until pale, thick and frothy.
Using a metal spoon, gently fold in the flour and baking powder until combined. Do not over-mix the batter.
Gently fold in the coconut.
Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until the cake is golden brown.
Remove from oven.
Pour the chilled milk over the hot cake.
Allow to cool, then refrigerate.
Cut into squares or slices to serve.

Cooking By Numbers

I never thought I would be a “Colour by Numbers” person, but since downloading a colouring app on my phone, I have discovered the joy of unwinding with a picture or two. Not having to choose which colours to use is a great stress reliever. However, I still maintain some individuality by not always colouring in the whole picture. Sometimes I’ll just colour in particular colours (like red and black) or highlight a particular image (like a flower or animal).

I also love the variety of pictures I can colour. Naturally I was drawn towards animal pictures such as pandas and puffins but mandalas have also become a firm favourite. Equally unsurprising is another favourite category – food! Pancakes dripping with syrup, decadent cupcakes and lavishly decorated coffee and tea pots are a delight for the eye and imagination. 

While scrolling through the daily offerings, I couldn’t believe it when a recipe came up on my feed! My mouth watered when I saw a picture for a Curd Cake recipe. I immediately thought it would be a lemon curd cake, but as I deciphered the images and read the sparse instructions, I realised it was a cottage cheese cake! I love cottage cheese so I was keen to  make it – but not before I coloured in the picture. 🙂

The picture didn’t stipulate what size baking pan to use so I went with my trusty 10cm x 21cm loaf pan. I made a few tweaks to the recipe and was rewarded with a sweet, bread-like cake that is absolutely delicious when eaten warm. I enjoyed cold cake the next day served with a dollop of gin marmalade. This is an easy cake to make and one that you can tweak and make your own. Let me know if you make one!

Curd Cake

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Ingredients
3/4 cup sugar
75g (1/3 cup) butter, room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Instructions
Preheat oven to 160C / 325F.
Line a loaf pan with baking paper.
Beat the sugar and butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
Beat in the eggs one at a time.
Add the cottage cheese and beat on low until combined.
Sift in the flour and baking powder.
Using a spatula or wooden spoon, stir until combined.
Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 45 – 55 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes.
Slice and eat while warm or place on a wire rack to cool completely.
Refrigerate any leftovers.

Rise To The Occasion

When the pandemic hit, I was expecting some food-stuffs might be difficult to get. What I wasn’t expecting was that dry yeast would be one of them. Wanting to make some bread, and not confident to try making sourdough, I opted for an ingredient that I haven’t used since the 1980’s – fresh yeast.

Luckily the local delicatessen had a small amount of fresh yeast in stock which I used to make Herb and Onion Bread. The recipe makes two loaves so you can freeze one and eat one straight away. It’s delicious straight from the oven and slathered with butter. It’s great the next day too.

Ironically, as I was writing this piece, I noticed that dry yeast was finally back on the shelves. 🙂

Herb and Onion Bread

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Ingredients
25g unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
300ml buttermilk
1 tablespoon honey
15g fresh yeast
2 tablespoons dried herbs of your choice
1 + 1/2 cups white flour
1 + 1/2 cups wholemeal flour
1 + 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
milk for brushing
sesame seeds for sprinkling

Instructions
Grease and flour 2 loaf tins.
Place the butter and onion in a small frying pan and cook gently until the onions are soft but not browned. Set aside.
In a small saucepan heat the buttermilk and honey until warm but not boiling.
Pour into a small bowl.
Mix in the fresh yeast.
Sprinkle with the dried herbs.
Place in a warm spot and allow to bloom for 15 minutes until the mixture becomes foamy.
In a large bowl, mix together the white flour, wholemeal flour and salt.
Make a well in the centre and pour in the cooked onions and yeast mixture. Mix together until combined and the dough forms a ball.
Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for about 10 minutes or until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.
Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl.
Cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap and leave in a warm spot for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.
Punch the dough down, divide into 2 and place in prepared pans.
Brush lightly with milk and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Cover and leave in a warm place for 45 to 60 minutes or until doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 190C / 375F.
Bake for 30 to 45 minutes or until the loaves are well risen and golden brown. To check if bread is cooked, carefully remove one loaf from the pan and tap the bottom. It will sound hollow when cooked.
If the bread is not cooked, return to the oven and keep checking frequently until cooked.
Allow to cool slightly before turning out of the pans.
Serve warm or cold.

A Day For Mead

August 1st is Imbolc – the midway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It is a time of hope, a time to remember that Winter is ending and Spring is on its way. Imbolc celebrates the return of Persephone as she takes leave from her role as Queen of the Underworld and returns to the Earth as a Goddess of Spring. Foods and drinks that are associated with Spring and the Sun are traditional Imbolc fare.

This year Imbolc coincides with Mead Day, which is celebrated on the first Saturday in August. Mead Day was created as way to forge friendships within the mead making community and to introduce (or reintroduce) the rest of us to the joy that is mead. 🙂 Mead is made by combining honey with water and yeast. Additional flavourings can be added such as fruits , herbs and spices. It can be served straight, in cocktails or as a warmed mulled wine.

I was first introduced to mead at a Pagan festival many years ago and immediately fell in love with its sweet and spicy honey flavour. I love drinking mead, but I also love cooking with it. Mead is a great addition to both savoury and sweet dishes, but especially to sweet ones.

To celebrate Imbolc and Mead Day I’ve made a mead cupcake with mead cream cheese frosting. If you can’t find mead, you can try substituting it with a sweet wine – the sweeter and stickier the better. The recipe can be scaled up and you can use the leftover egg yolk to make custard – with or without mead!

Mead Cupcake with Mead Cream Cheese Frosting
(serves one)

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Special instructions:
You will need 1 Texas muffin size silicone liner or a Texas muffin pan and paper liner.

Ingredients
for the mead cupcake
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons (30g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 egg white
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of sea salt
1 tablespoon shredded coconut
2 tablespoons mead

for the mead cream cheese frosting
1/4 cup (60g) cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons icing sugar
2 tablespoons mead

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and combined.
Beat in the egg white.
Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt.
Stir in the coconut and mix until just combined.
Add the mead and stir until just combined.
Spoon the batter into a silicone liner or a Texas muffin pan lined with a paper case.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Make the frosting by mixing together the cream cheese and icing sugar until combined.
Add the mead and mix until smooth and combined.
Dollop or pipe onto cupcake.
If the frosting needs to thicken before piping, place in the refrigerator for a sort time.

A Day For Snakes

July 16 is World Snake Day. It is a day to celebrate snakes, learn more about their important role in our ecosystem and hopefully conquer some of the fears associated with these captivating reptiles. Seeing as every continent except Antarctica has snakes, it’s probably a good idea to get to know them. 🙂

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Poison vs Venom
Are snakes poisonous or venomous?
In biology, the term venom is used for toxins that are injected via a bite or sting, while poison applies to toxins that are absorbed through ingestion or inhalation. This means snakes that bite and inject venom are venomous and snakes that can make you sick or kill you if you eat them are poisonous. A few snakes can be both venomous and poisonous. Some venomous snakes eat toxic prey such as newts or cane toads. The toxins don’t usually harm the snakes, but they can retain those toxins in their system for weeks, making them poisonous if eaten.

Most Venomous vs Most Deadly
What is the difference between the most venomous snake in the world and the deadliest?
While the terms may seem interchangeable, it has become increasing common to use the word venomous when speaking of toxicity and deadly when speaking of deaths. Venomous snakes are graded by the toxicity of their venom while deadliest snakes are rated by how many people they kill. This means that venomous snakes may not be the deadliest. Australia is home to several of the most venomous snakes in the world but, because we have access to hospitals and antivenom, deaths are low. Therefore, although we have extremely venomous snakes here, they are not necessarily the deadliest.

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When Snakes Fly!
We can find snakes on land and in water but did you know some snakes can fly?
Chrysopelea are commonly called flying snakes or gliding snakes. These snakes glide through the air by propelling themselves off tree branches! Once airborne the snake forms an S shape, flattens its ribs then glides and undulates its way to its desired location. I know some people may be thinking “NO! – not flying snakes!”, but I think they are awesome. You can see a flying snake and all its graceful movements in these fascinating videos:

Short clip

And a longer one if you’re really keen!

Happy World Snake Day!

Dark Moon Solstice

This weekend is Solstice weekend and many of us in the southern hemisphere will be celebrating the Winter Solstice. Also known as Midwinter, the Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year. After the Winter Solstice, the nights get shorter and the days longer but the weather most definitely gets colder! This year Midwinter also coincides with a Dark Moon and an Eclipse, making it a very dark and powerful night!

To warm up after the evening festivities, I’m going to indulge in a seasonal treat – gingerbread in the form of cupcakes! I love the warm, spicy taste of ginger in anything, but particularly in sweets. Ginger cakes, cookies, candies and sodas are treats I regularly indulge in, as is ginger tea.

To truly get into the spirit of culinary indulgence that is Midwinter, I’ll be topping my gingerbread cupcakes with a rich brown butter frosting.

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Brown Butter Frosting
(makes 10)

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Ingredients
for the gingerbread cupcakes
1 + 1/3 cups plain flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
115g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup caster (superfine) sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 + 1/2 tablespoons golden syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

for the brown butter frosting
115g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, roughly chopped
170g (6oz) cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 + 1/2 cups icing (powdered) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 10 paper cases.
Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and ginger in a bowl.
In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until creamy.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Add the golden syrup and vanilla and beat until combined.
Add the flour mix and beat until combined.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into 10 paper cases.
Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cupcake comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the brown butter frosting, place the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Stirring constantly, cook until the butter becomes tan in colour. Do not allow to go dark brown or black.
Once tan, remove saucepan from heat and pour butter into a heatproof bowl.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour or until it reaches a soft butter consistency.
Place the butter and cream cheese into a bowl and, using an electric mixer, beat until smooth and creamy.
Add the salt, sugar and vanilla and beat until fluffy and combined.
Spoon frosting into a piping bag and pipe onto cupcakes.

A Taste of Rocky Roads

Earlier this year I attended a Rocky Road Workshop at Yarra Valley Chocolaterie. In the workshop we were presented with a table full of ingredients including a variety of spices, nuts, candies and dried fruits. Our first decision was what chocolate we wanted – dark, milk or white. I chose milk, as I find it doesn’t overpower the other ingredients. 

Once we received our tub of hot, melted chocolate, we were invited to throw in whatever ingredients we wanted and mix them in! I decided to go for an eclectic mix of some of my favourite things. 🙂 I added vanilla marshmallows, coconut, liquorice, honeycomb, peanut brittle, almonds and macadamia nuts. I had to work hard to get them all stirred in before the chocolate set. 

I rushed home so I could try my chocolatey concoction. I was really pleased with the result and enjoyed the liquorice, honeycomb and peanut brittle combination the most.

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I learned quite a few things at the workshop but the most exciting was the news that May is Rocky Road month at the chocolaterie. For each day of the month they create a new flavour of Rocky Road. You can visit every day and try the speciality of the day, or you can do what I did which is buy a set of 31 flavours in one large box. 

I had a huge smile on my face as I carried the roughly 5kg (11 pound) box of chocolates back to my car and, a number of weeks later, I’ve only just finished tasting them all. While I liked most of them my favourites are definitely Banoffee, Caramel Obsession, Fruity Floral Ruby, Mint Madness, Salty Pretzel, Tiramisu and Turkish Delight.

If you want to make your own Rocky Road you can check out my recipe here and play around with the ingredients. Let me know if you come up with any crazy and tasty concoctions! 🙂 

A Treat For Renfield

May 26 is World Dracula Day, a day which celebrates the publication of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula in 1897. Dracula is full of fascinating characters and one of the strangest is 59 year old R.M. Renfield, forever remembered as a fly eating maniac.

 

Fool

The Dracula Tarot

Renfield is a character who appears spasmodically in Dracula but his brief appearances are both fascinating and instrumental to the narrative. We never know how Renfield came to be a patient at Dr Seward’s sanatorium as his personal history is a mystery. What we do know is that he has a particular fascination for blood. He devours live animals beginning with flies and quickly works his way up to spiders and birds. He even asks the doctor if he can have a kitten. Dr Seward calls his strange patient zoophagous, a term he devises to describe Renfield’s blood-thirst for live animals.

Renfield also has a connection with Dracula. From the moment Dracula’s ship nears England, Renfield is aware of its approach. Soon after Dracula moves into Carfax, Renfield twice escapes, runs to Carfax, and talks with Dracula. Renfield offers his allegiance to the dark vampire, as he desires the gift of eternal life that only Dracula can offer. In an interesting discussion with Dr Seward, Renfield becomes uneasy when they discuss souls. Renfield initially does not want to be responsible for the souls of those who may die at his hands, but it is a responsibility he eventually and reluctantly accepts.

When Renfield meets Mina, a guest at the sanatorium, he has a change of heart. Knowing that Dracula will come for her, Renfield warns Mina to leave. It is only through Renfield that Dracula can enter the sanatorium, as he needs an invitation. Renfield allows Dracula entry but regrets his actions when he sees Mina again. She is pale and withdrawn, a consequence of Dracula’s attacks on her. Renfield has grown quite fond of Mina and does not like the fact that Dracula is feeding from her. He decides to stop Dracula when he next tries to gain entry into the sanatorium through his window. In a show of strength, Renfield grabs Dracula as he begins to materialise in the room. The two struggle and Dracula fights off Renfield, delivering him a killing blow. As Renfield lies dying, he confesses his sins to the vampire hunters. He tells them that Dracula has attacked Mina and that he is with her now. He dies hoping that his brave actions can save Mina’s life and also his soul.

As a tribute to Renfield, I couldn’t resist making Garibaldi Biscuits. These pastries filled with currants are named after Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Italian general who led the struggle to unify Italy. What does that have to do with Dracula or Renfield? Well it’s the various nicknames of these pastries that are my inspiration. The look of the squashed currant filling has given rise to nicknames such as Fly Cakes, Fly Pie, Fly Sandwiches, Flies’ Graveyard, Flies’ Cemetery, Squashed Fly Biscuits and, my favourite, Dead Fly Biscuits. I think that Renfield would like these delicious (although fly-less) biscuits that won’t weigh heavily on his soul.

Dead Fly Biscuits

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Ingredients
2/3 cups dried currants
2 tablespoons marsala wine
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
80g (1/3 cup) cold unsalted butter, chopped
1/2 cup caster (superfine) sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg, lightly beaten

Instructions
Place the currants and marsala in a bowl and set aside for 30 minutes.
While the currants are soaking, start the dough.
Place the flour, butter and a 1/4 cup of the sugar into a food processor and pulse until it resembles breadcrumbs.
Turn out into a bowl.
Add the milk and mix until it forms a dough.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth.
Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven 200C / 400F.
Line a baking tray with baking paper (approximately 20x30cm / 8x12inches).
Divide the dough in half.
Roll one half between two sheets of baking paper to fit the baking tray.
Place the dough on prepared tray.
Combine the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar with the cinnamon.
Sprinkle two tablespoons of cinnamon sugar over the pastry.
Drain the currants, discarding the marsala, and spread the currants over the pastry.
Roll the remaining pastry between two sheets of baking paper and place over the top.
Lightly roll with a rolling pin to squeeze the layers together.
Score the surface to mark out twelve rectangular slices.
Brush top with beaten egg.
Sprinkle with remaining cinnamon sugar.
Bake for 25 minutes.
Allow to rest for 5 minutes.
Cut along the score marks to separate the slices.
These are usually eaten cold but they are delicious hot too. 🙂