Author: Vicky V

About Vicky V

Writer specialising in vampirism, tarot, witchcraft and cookery - so far! Amateur photographer specialising in food & drink, still life, architectural, gothic and nature photography.

Afternoon Tea and Jane Austen

Two hundred years have passed since Jane Austen died on the 18th of July, 1817. I wasn’t sure how I would commemorate the occasion. The one thing I didn’t think I would be doing was attending an afternoon tea hosted by Caroline Jane Knight, Jane Austen’s fifth great niece and the last descendant to be raised in the ancestral family home, Chawton House.

Caroline’s talk was informative and engaging. She spoke of so many things but the one thing that struck me most were her Australia connections. I was stunned to realise that Jane Austen’s fifth great niece actually lives in Melbourne and that her mother was born in Australia. Caroline is a renowned business woman and philanthropist. Her main philanthropic focus is promoting literacy around the world.

After the talk Caroline stayed around to chat with guests and sign copies of her book “Jane & Me.” She even brought a piece of the family dinner service. The bespoke Wedgwood service features a pattern commissioned by Jane Austen’s brother Edward. Jane and Caroline both ate from that service and we got to see it!

And speaking of dinner service, Caroline’s fascinating talk was accompanied by an afternoon tea.
For savouries we were served:
Free range egg, truffle and watercress sandwiches
Yorkshire pudding with roast beef and horseradish cream
Ham hock terrine with piccalilli.
For sweets we were served:
Scones with strawberry jam and cream
Lemon meringue tartlet
Sour cranberry Bakewell tart with citrus sherbet sauce
Strawberry Eton mess
A glass of sparkling wine to begin followed by tea and coffee brought an end to a fabulous afternoon.

The recipe I would like to share in honour of Jane Austen is from one of my favourite cookbooks – “Kafka’s Soup” by Mark Crick. Crick not only creates recipes inspired by famous writers, he writes them in the style of the author. When I read his recipe for “Lamb with Dill Sauce à la Raymond Chandler” I was hooked. His description of the leg of lamb feeling “cold and damp, like a coroner’s handshake” had me running to the bookstore counter with money and book in hand!

I think Jane Austen would love Crick’s literary wit. I also think she’d love the eggs Crick created for her. So without further ado here are Mark Crick’s “Tarragon Eggs à la Jane Austen” with edited selections from his text and tweaks by me.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that eggs, kept for too long, go off” begins the recipe.

As to what herbs to use, Mrs B thought “Parsley might do … Good-looking, with an easy and unaffected manner.” But Lady Cumberland did not agree. “Too much curl to its leaf, and too often seen in great bunches at fishmongers. It would be a most unhappy connection.” Mrs B spies some tarragon which she does not like. “It refuses to grow here, it refuses to grow there, but fancies itself so very great, disappearing every winter I know not where. I quite detest the plant.” Again Lady Cumberland disagrees. “French tarragon is an aristocrat among herbs, and although I think it too good for your eggs, I cannot deny that it would be a fine match for them.” To avoid offending either lady I have chosen a combination of the two herbs. In deference to Lady Cumberland’s dislike of curly parsley I chose flat leaf.

The instructions for beating the 4 eggs include straining them, which I didn’t do, but I did carefully beat them so as not to create a froth which apparently is “so unsightly.”
I added 1 teaspoon of dried tarragon and 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh parsley to the beaten eggs. I then spread 20g of butter around the pan and added a further 20g of butter in small chunks to the mix. I added salt and pepper to taste. Pouring the eggs into the pan I gently cooked them, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan. I removed them from the heat before they were fully cooked, allowing the residual heat to cook them to my liking. A serving of toast and tea completes the dish.

IMG_4601

Mark’s recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of tarragon either fresh or dried. Parsley, either curly or flat leaf, is not used. Obviously Mark has chosen Lady Cumberland over Mrs B – a brave choice indeed!

I can only hope Mrs B and Lady Cumberland approve of my tweaks 🙂

That Arancini Guy

When I went to the Lara Food and Wine Festival earlier this year, I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by a food stall with a fun name – That Arancini Guy 🙂 But when I tasted those deep fried rice balls, served with Japanese mayonnaise, I was hooked. There were four choices but I could only try three as the Beef Ragu with Peas & Mozzarella Arancini contained tomato and other ingredients I am allergic/sensitive to. But three out of four ain’t bad – in fact they were delightful.

IMG_3992

My risotto balls containing Mushroom & Mozzarella, Pumpkin & Mozzarella and Spinach & Mozzarella were so delicious. One bite into the crunchy crust and I was rewarded with the taste of gooey, savoury rice. Each one was distinct and I had a hard time deciding on a favourite. The Japanese mayonnaise added a sharp and creamy note. I could have eaten a bowl of them, with or without mayonnaise.

I couldn’t wait to try making these moreish morsels at home. I went with a basic recipe but added my own unique twist – green tea. Instead of cooking the rice in stock, I thought it would be fun to use tea. I chose green but you could experiment with black teas. Next time I’m going to try Earl Grey 🙂

Green Tea Arancini

IMG_0654a

Ingredients
for the tea
3 cups water
2 tablespoons green tea leaves

for the rice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 cup jasmine rice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
6 baby bocconcini, drained and halved

for the crumbing
1/2 cup plain flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 + 1/4 cups panko crumbs
vegetable oil for frying

Instructions
Bring water to a boil in a saucepan. Remove from heat. Add tea leaves. Cover and steep for 5 minutes. Strain. Return tea to the saucepan and simmer until needed.
Heat oil and butter in a medium saucepan. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and cook until soft but not brown. Add rice and stir to coat. Stir in the salt. Add 1/2 a cup of the strained tea and cook until mostly evaporated. Add the remaining tea and bring to the boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until the rice is cooked and the liquid has been absorbed.
Pour rice into a baking dish and spread out thinly to cool. Add the parmesan cheese and parsley to the rice and stir through until combined. Divide into 12 portions.
Take 1/2 a portion of rice and flatten it in the palm of your hand. Place a halved piece of bocconcini in the centre, cover with remaining 1/2 portion of rice and shape into a ball. Repeat with the remaining rice and cheese.
Roll balls in flour, then dip in the beaten egg, then roll in the breadcrumbs. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 150C / 300F.
Heat oil in a large pan or deep fryer to 180C / 350F. Deep fry the arancini in batches for 4 – 5 minutes or until golden brown. Make sure the oil comes back to temperature between batches.
Keep warm by placing in the oven until all the arancini are cooked.
Place on paper towels and drain before serving.
Serve with your favourite mayonnaise.

Solstice Baked Potatoes

As the wheel spins towards another Midwinter in Melbourne, I am enjoying the cool weather and the need to wrap myself up in warm blankets and comfy dressing gowns. The sun is still warm during the day, but as it begins to set, the cold seeps in and the need to stop work, make a hot drink and retire to the couch sinks in.

On Wednesday June 21st, many of us will be celebrating the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. I’m not sure what I will be doing, but I am tempted to go to the Queen Victoria Night Market. This weekly winter market just happens to fall on the Winter Solstice. Although I’ve been many times before, I never get tired of it. I love the unusual stalls that pop up and make shopping a real treat. The food stalls are a real highlight! But what I love most is just being outdoors, surrounded by life, colour, sound and the smell of good food.

The food I enjoy most in winter is roast vegetables such as pumpkin, carrots and potatoes. The sweetness of the pumpkins and carrots goes beautifully with the crispness of well baked potatoes. Thinking of myself all wrapped up in blankets and gowns made me think of jacket potatoes – and taking them a step further – so I experimented with a recipe for potatoes baked in a salt crust. For me they are a perfect union between crispy roast potatoes and moist steamed potatoes.

Salt Crust Potatoes

IMG_8032

Ingredients
1kg cocktail potatoes
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 cup fine salt

Method
Preheat oven to 220C / 430F.
Wash and dry the potatoes.
Prick each potato several times with a fork.
Coat each potato with egg white.
Coat each potato completely with salt.
Bake for 1 hour or until tender when pierced with a skewer or fork.
Crack off the salt crust and serve with your favourite potato toppers.

“Two” Many Cupcakes?

Tuesday June 13th is Cupcake Lovers Day 🙂

Coming up with a cupcake recipe for this awesome day should be so easy for me – after all, I am writing a cupcake cookbook! But as the day neared, I found myself surprisingly uninspired. So I decided to get my creative juices flowing by looking at the history of the cupcake and discovering why they are indeed called cupcakes.

Historically there are two types of cupcakes. The first is called a cupcake because the ingredients are measured by volume rather than weight. For this type of cake, most of the ingredients are measured in a cup. A popular cupcake of this type is called a 1234 cake because it is made with 1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups flour and 4 eggs. These cakes are usually baked in conventional cake pans.

The second type of cupcake is the cupcake we know and love today. They are called cupcakes because before the invention of muffin tins, these small, single serve cakes were actually baked in tea cups or mugs. Today, cupcakes are no longer baked in cups but are baked in muffin tins lined with decorative paper cases. They are usually topped with frosting or icing and can be filled or unfilled. They can also be decorated in many creative ways.

Did my trip down cupcake history lane whet my appetite? It sure did! After much thought and battling sugar cravings, I was inspired by the concept of the mug cake – quick, single serve cakes that are baked in mugs. But what I really wanted was to make a small batch of cupcakes baked in paper cases, not mugs. A quick bit of research and I happily discovered that there are many recipes for 1 or 2 cupcakes. The recipes for 1 cupcake required tablespoon measurements of egg white which I really don’t have time for, so I explored the 2 cupcake recipes, most of which use a whole egg white.

I know what you’re thinking. Why would you only bake 2 cupcakes? Well, I’d like to say it’s because I’m worried about eating a dozen cupcakes on my own but I would be lying 🙂 I was really thinking that by making only 2 cupcakes at a time I can experiment with more flavours and more combinations. In fact, I could well end up eating more than a dozen! I also did think there may be people out there who would like to make small batch cupcakes. So here is the first of what I hope are many creations for my “two for me” cupcakes!

Two Brown Butter Vanilla Cupcakes

IMG_4318b

Ingredients
30g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 egg white
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of sea salt
1 + 1/2 tablespoons milk

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Place 2 paper cases in either a 6-hole or 12-hole muffin pan.
Add the butter to a small frying pan.
Carefully swirl the pan for two minutes or until the butter is golden brown, being careful not to burn the butter.
Pour into a heat-proof bowl and allow to cool slightly.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg white and sugar until combined.
Stir in the vanilla and melted butter.
Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir until combined.
Add the milk and stir until just combined.
Divide the batter evenly between the 2 paper cases.
Bake for 10 – 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.

So how do you frost two cupcakes? Well the possibilities are endless. As you are not going to make a huge batch of frosting – unless you want to – you can be a bit more creative with your topping choices. For one of the cupcakes I went the simple route. I topped the cupcake with a dollop of double cream and grated some white chocolate over the top. You can do this with any of your favourite toppings and spreads. No recipe needed!

For the other cupcake, I challenged myself to create frosting for one, because who doesn’t want to know how to make frosting just for yourself 🙂 There were many options available but I finally went for a peanut butter one. The thought of a brown butter cupcake topped with peanut butter frosting actually made me drool.

Peanut Butter Frosting For One

IMG_4322b

Ingredients
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons icing (powdered) sugar
1 tablespoon milk

Instructions
In a small bowl, whisk together the butter and peanut butter. You can use a small whisk or a fork.
Whisk in the icing sugar until combined
Mix in the milk and whisk until you reach your desired consistency.
Dollop onto cupcake.

Click Cupcakes for more of my recipes 🙂

A Day For Gin

World Gin Day is celebrated on the second Saturday in June. This is a day to enjoy all things gin. For some of us, World Gin Day is every day!

I’ve always loved gin. I love the aromatics and the infinite flavours you can play with. The only things gin needs in order to be called gin is distilled alcohol and juniper berries. After that you can add anything else and it’s still a gin. In fact the name gin is derived from juniperus, the Latin word for juniper.

One of the more interesting gins I have recently discovered is and Australian gin called Ink. It was the deep blue/purple colour that drew me to the bottle. I then discovered that this blue/purple colour changes to a light purple/pink when you add tonic water. I was entranced! I was also very happy that this gin was not just a gimmick, but a beautiful tasting one as well.

IMG_4296

Ink is infused with 14 different botanicals including butterfly pea flowers. It is these flowers that give the gin its bright colour as well as its colour changing properties. Butterfly pea flowers are considered an aphrodisiac as the flowers resemble female genitalia. Not surprisingly their scientific name is derived from the Latin for clitoris – Clitoria ternatea.

With that in mind I started thinking of a way of showcasing this delicious and unusual gin while adding a feminine touch 🙂 After much thought I really couldn’t go past a classic gin and tonic with the addition of strawberries. Strawberries are associated with Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, after whom aphrodisiacs are named.

Strawberry Gin and Tonic

IMG_4294

Ingredients
60ml gin
1 strawberry, sliced lengthways
90ml tonic water

Instructions
Pour the gin into a glass.
Add the sliced strawberry.
Allow to marinate for 10 minutes.
Add the tonic water.
Enjoy!
Makes one mixed drink.

For more gin drinks, check out my recipes for Glow In The Dark Gin & Tonic, Gin Alexander and Sage Mulled Wine.

Halloween High Tea

A few weeks ago I celebrated Halloween with a high tea at The Austen Tea Room. The decor and crockery were delightful. There were four of us taking tea and we had a room all to ourselves. We were in the Elizabeth Bennet room, which we thought most appropriate 🙂

We were quite excited as we waited for our tiered plates of savoury and sweet treats. We weren’t disappointed! Our first plate arrived filled with mouthwatering finger sandwiches, mini pies and quiches. Then a towering plate of sweets came. We started with the meringues with cream followed by little cakes and macarons. We ended with scones, jam and cream. Pots of tea flowed smoothly throughout the service. It was a wonderful experience and one we would do again.

IMG_4257

As I have never been to a high tea before, I started thinking about the difference between an afternoon tea, a cream tea and a high tea. After researching the subject I made a fascinating discovery – what many of us think of as a high tea isn’t really a high tea. Rather than dainty little morsels served on delicate crockery in the afternoon, a high tea is really a hearty meal served late in the evening at the end of the working day.

During the Industrial Revolution, workers would arrive home late and hungry. This led to the tradition of sitting around a table and eating an evening meal. Hot and cold food would be served including meat, fish, pies, tarts, breads and cakes. Food was accompanied with cupfuls of strong tea. These hearty dishes were served on sturdy crockery and cups, not the delicate plates, sauces and teacups we associate with a modern high tea. This evening meal came to be known as high tea, meat tea and later simply as tea.

There are two theories as to why this evening meal was called high tea:
High tea was eaten sitting at a kitchen table or high table while afternoon tea, also called low tea, was eaten sitting on low sofas and chairs, with food served on lower lounge tables.
High tea was taken later in the day when the day was well advanced or “higher” in the day whereas afternoon tea was served earlier or “lower” in the day.

If the high tea I enjoyed at The Austen Tea Room wasn’t really a high tea, then what was it? Using the term high tea for afternoon tea appears to have occurred due to a misunderstanding as to what the term “high” meant. At some point the term “high” was thought to mean formal. So high teas are now a fancy form of afternoon tea. Whatever their origin, one thing is definite – they are delicious 🙂

Pies are popular in both afternoon and high teas. While dainty little party pies may grace an afternoon tea party, these hearty stout, beef and smoked oyster pot pies would be welcome on any high tea table.

Surf and Turf Pot Pies

IMG_9011

Ingredients
1kg stewing beef, cubed
2 tablespoons plain flour
olive oil for browning
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 cup stout
1 cup beef stock
2 bay leaves
120g button mushrooms, quartered
2 x 85g tin of smoked oysters
1-2 sheets ready rolled frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten
sesame seeds

Instructions
Toss the cubed meat through the flour until coated.
Heat oil in a large saucepan.
Add meat in batches and cook over a high heat until browned. Add more oil as needed. Remove browned meat and set aside.
Add a splash of oil to the pan, add the onion and garlic and cook until onion is soft.
Add the salt and basil and stir through.
Return the meat to pan.
Add the stout and stock and stir through.
Add the bay leaves and bring to the boil.
Once boiling, cover, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 1 + 1/2 hours.
Add the mushrooms and simmer, uncovered, for a further 30 minutes.
Remove bay leaves.
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Distribute the smoked oysters evenly between four 12cm x 6cm oven-proof bowls or ramekins.
Pour stew evenly into the ramekins.
Cut puff pastry lids slightly bigger than the bowls.
Cover bowls with puff pastry, pressing the edges down around the rim of the ramekins to seal the pies.
Brush tops with beaten egg.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Bake for 20 minutes or until pastry is golden brown.

Note – check the liquid during the cooking process and add more stout, stock or water if needed.

World Goth Day

May 22nd is World Goth Day. World what day? World Goth Day! That’s right, there is a World Goth Day and it has been around since 2009.

During a BBC Radio 6 exploration of musical subcultures, two goth DJs thought it would be great to get an event going that celebrated the goth scene. They chose May 22nd as the day. Initially a British celebration, World Goth Day spread and is now celebrated all over the world. You can check out the offical page to learn more and to see if there is an event near you.

World Goth Day celebrates the cultural heritage of the goth scene. It is a day for goths to be proud of who and what they are. I have been a proud goth since I was young, openly exploring the darker side of life through books, films, television and music.

romanianqueena

When I entered the world of punk rock music I found my clan – punk goths. Not surprisingly two of the bands that influenced me the most were The Damned and The Cure. Both bands were punk goth hybrids and difficult to pigeonhole into one category. They were, to borrow a term from the awesome Billy Bragg, genre fluid – much like me 🙂 Also like me, both bands have lasted the distance and continue to embrace the soul of punk goth culture. In honour of World Goth Day’s musical roots, I have made a recipe based on one of my favourite songs.

In my post Neat Neat Neat I created a recipe for Smashed Potatoes in tribute to The Damned song Smash It Up. I also answered questions by Bob T. Panda including these two:
If you could be an animal, which one would you be?
“A Giant Panda like Clint Recession.”

Who is Clint Recession? Well he is a creation by David O’Doherty, Claudia O’Doherty and Mike Ahern in the book 100 Facts About Pandas. According to this book of fun fake facts, Clint is a founding member of The Cure and the inspiration for their goth look – he’s also a giant panda.

Which leads me to the next question:
What kind of cuppycake are you, and why?
“A Black Forest Cuppycake because I like black and I like The Cure song A Forest.”

Naturally I couldn’t resist creating a Black Forest Cupcake combining both goth and panda culture. My cupcakes are decorated with black liquorice which reminds me of black bamboo. And if there is one species of bamboo a goth panda would love it’s black!

Don’t forget, the original Black Forest Cake is named for Germany’s Black Forest – the setting for many of Grimm’s fairytales – and home to some spooky folklore. Wow, that’s a lot of goth to pack into one cupcake 🙂

Have a Happy World Goth Day!

Black Forest Cupcakes 

IMG_7008a

Ingredients
for the black forest cupcakes
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
125g (1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 egg yolk, room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
425g (15oz) canned pitted black cherries, drained and chopped, reserving the juice
1/2 cup juice, reserved from canned cherries

for the whipped cream
2 cups double cream
4 teaspoons powdered buttermilk or powdered milk
2 tablespoons powdered (icing) sugar
black liquorice for decoration
grated chocolate for sprinkling
fresh cherries for garnish – optional

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
In a small bowl, sift together the cocoa, flour and baking powder. Set aside.
In a medium sized bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy and pale.
Add egg yolk, one of the eggs and half the sour cream and beat well.
Add remaining egg and sour cream and beat until combined.
Add the milk and mix until combined.
Using a wooden spoon, fold through the cocoa mix 1/3 third at a time until combined.
Add the cherries and juice and gently mix through.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into paper cases.
Bake for 10 – 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.
While cupcakes are cooling make the whipped cream by whipping together the cream, powdered sugar and milk powder with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined. Add the vanilla extract and whisk on high speed until stiff peaks form. Spoon whipped cream into a piping bag and pipe onto cupcakes.
Decorate with black liquorice.
Sprinkle with chocolate and garnish with fresh cherries if desired.

Mother’s Day

From ancient Goddess cults to the Christian Mothering Sunday, mothers in all their forms have been celebrated for millennia. The modern Mother’s Day celebration is part of that tradition. After the death of her activist mother Ann Jarvis, Anna Jarvis wanted to create a special day to honour mothers. Unlike former celebrations, Anna wanted her Mother’s Day to be reserved solely for your very own mother, not mothers or mothering in general. Anna succeeded in her quest, but she quickly regretted her victory.

Anna had envisioned a Mother’s Day where children of all ages would visit their mothers and spend quality time with them. Any gifts would be homemade to show the value of the relationship, not the value of the gift. She was devastated to see the holiday turn into a commercial enterprise for florists, confectioners and card manufacturers. She spent the rest of her life trying to destroy what she had created. Despite the commercialisation of Mother’s Day, it continues to be a very important day of the year.

Empress

Ironically, one of the reasons Mother’s Day remains so popular is that it has returned to the more Pagan understanding of mothers and mothering. Rather than focus solely on your own mother, Mother’s Day is promoted as a time to remember all forms of mothering including symbolic mothers and mothers in the animal world. Many zoos have special Mother’s Day events and encourage people to think about giving a donation or animal sponsorship as a Mother’s Day gift. It’s not what Anna wanted, but maybe by focussing on a broader meaning for Mother’s Day, we can also heal some of the stress that comes with this complicated holiday. Those who have bad relationships with their mothers or children, those who aren’t mothers and those who are mourning children or mothers who have passed away may gain some comfort from less rigid interpretations of the day.

As someone who has always been passionate about animals, I love the idea of including them in Mother’s Day celebrations. My first two posts on Mother’s Day were both panda film reviews – ACHOO! The sneeze heard across the world and Kung Fu Panda 3. Both posts look at the beauty, power and struggle of mothers and babies in the animal world. By including all forms of mothers and mothering in Mother’s Day celebrations, we can bring new focus to the holiday and give support to some of the rarest mothers in the world.

IMG_6782

In honour of all mothers I thought I would create an apple flowerpot cake with apple crisps. The cake can be presented in its pot as a gift. The apple crisps are a personal reminder of the bamboo and apple slices baby panda Miao Miao munched on during a cuddling session with one of her Aunties – me 🙂

Apple Flower Pot Cake

IMG_2441a

Ingredients
170g butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup of sweet apple cider
2 tablespoons of elderflower cordial
Icing sugar for dusting

Instructions
Preheat oven to 170C / 340F.
Line an unglazed flower pot or glazed baking pot with baking paper – (approx 16 cm diameter and 10 cm deep)
In a large bowl using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition.
In a separate bowl sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and cloves.
In a jug, combine the apple cider with the elderflower cordial.
Add the flour mixture alternately with the cider mixture to the creamed butter. Beat until well blended.
Pour batter into prepared flower pot.
Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow cake to cool for a few minutes before removing from pot.
Gently peel away the baking paper.
Place cake on serving plate and dust with icing sugar.
Serve with apple crisps.

Apple Crisps
Ingredients
1 red apple
1 green apple
elderflower cordial for brushing
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Instructions
Preheat oven to 130C / 250F.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
Thinly slice the apples crosswise and remove the seeds.
Using a pastry brush, lightly brush both sides of the apple slices with elderflower cordial.
Combine the sugar and cinnamon together and use to lightly dust both sides of the apple slices.
Place in a single layer on baking trays and bake for approximately 2 hours or until dry and crisp. Turn over every half hour.
Remove from oven, transfer to racks and allow to cool.

A Silent Supper

It’s funny what things will make you miss someone close to you who has died. For me it’s usually something happy, something I want to share with that special person, but now I can’t. In The Austen Tea Room I wrote about someone close who had just passed away. What I didn’t say was that it was my mother. Her death was still too raw. The words couldn’t be said. Burying her on the morning of New Year’s Eve meant I was starting the new year without her. It’s shaping up as one hell of a great year. And it’s the first year I can’t share with my mum.

The wheel has spun its way back to Halloween in the Southern Hemisphere. With all the fun of trick-or-treaters and dressing up, sometimes we forget the true meaning of Halloween which is honouring the dead. This April 30th I will visit my mother’s grave and take some of her favourite foods to share with her. I’ll then be going to The Austen Tea Room for an afternoon High Tea. For the evening I thought I would do something very different – a Silent Supper – which is a meal that is eaten in silence to honour the dead.

IMG_0808a

There are many ways to hold a Silent Supper. You can have a solitary meal or invite friends and family. It can be as simple as eating something in silent contemplation or you can go all out and do a formal ritual with a formal dinner included. Some even suggest cooking the food in silence too.

While there are no real rules or directions, there are a few things to think about when hosting a Silent Supper. A place should be set at the head of the table for the departed loved ones you are honouring. You can drape the seat in a white or black cloth. Before you bring out the food, light a candle and place it on the table near the setting for the departed. The meal should include some of their favourite foods. Starting the supper around midnight is a nice touch. While you eat your silent meal, think about those that have passed.

When I think about my mother I always think of Demeter and Persephone. The bond between mother and daughter is beautifully expressed by these two Goddesses. My mother and I saw ourselves in their myth. She was Demeter as mother – good, bad and smothering. I was the daughter Persephone who left Demeter’s realm as a young girl to find a place for myself in the Underworld with Hades. Over the years I returned often to visit my mum. We shared both good times and bad times.

As the years went by I knew that my mother’s time here was drawing to a close. Finally, with very little warning, my mum passed into the realm of Persephone and Hades. I hope she likes the Underworld as much as I do.

In remembrance of my mother I will be making coliva for Halloween. Coliva is a boiled wheat dish that is traditionally prepared for services that honour the dead. There are many things you can add to the coliva but I prefer a simple fruit and nut mix. I particularly like adding pomegranate seeds so that the symbols for Demeter (wheat) and Persephone (pomegranate) can be united again in this sacred dish.

Coliva

IMG_3676a

Ingredients
1/2 cup wheat berries
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup vanilla sugar
1/2 a pomegranate, seeded
icing sugar for dusting
cream for serving (optional)

Instructions
Rinse the wheat berries and place in a large saucepan.
Add the salt and enough water to cover the berries by about 5 centimetres.
Bring to the boil over medium heat.
Stir occasionally to ensure the berries do not stick to the bottom.
During the cooking process, check to make sure the water has not dropped to a level where the berries cannot float.
Cook for 1 – 2 hours or until the berries are tender but not mushy.
Drain and spread out onto baking paper to dry for a few hours.
When the berries are dry, place in a bowl and mix through the walnuts, sesame seeds, ground cinnamon, vanilla sugar and pomegranate seeds, keeping a few pomegranate seeds in reserve.
Transfer to a serving platter and form into a mound.
Sift icing sugar over the top and decorate with reserved pomegranate seeds.
Serve with a dollop of cream if desired.

Bram Stew

I hope Bram Stoker isn’t going to turn over in his grave when he sees what I have chosen to make for his 105th Deathiversary (Thursday the 20th April) – deconstructed Irish Stew! It’s not the first time I’ve dabbled with deconstructing a classic recipe for Bram. I celebrated one of his birthdays by making a dessert version of an Irish Coffee.

So how do you deconstruct an Irish Stew? First, you have to have an idea of what deconstruction means in cookery terms. Basically, it is the art of looking at all the ingredients in a recipe, reimagining them in some way, and then putting them together again. The key is to make a dish that reminds you of the original, especially in flavour, and remains true to the essence of the dish. How you do this is where the artistry and the confusion comes in.

With that in mind there are a few ways of deconstructing a stew. I have chosen to stick with a basic stew but have taken the lamb out of the dish. Isn’t that just a vegetable stew? Yes, except I am still serving the lamb but in a different form. My aim is to deconstruct only part of the dish. The essence of a stew for me is a piping hot combination of hearty ingredients cooked to perfection in a tasty sauce. The reason I am taking out the lamb is because I don’t particularly like lamb. The only way I eat lamb is as crumbed cutlets. So, when I thought about making an Irish Stew for Bram, I couldn’t help but think of a dish of piping hot vegetables with succulent and crispy crumbed lamb cutlets served on the side. I hope you and Bram enjoy my reworking of this classic dish.

Deconstructed Irish Stew

IMG_4078

Note:
Start preparing the lamb cutlets once you have the stew simmering.

For the Irish Stew
Ingredients
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
4 medium potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
3 tablespoons plain flour
1 cup of Irish beer
1 cup of  chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste

Instructions
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.
Add the onion, carrots and potatoes and cook for a few minutes.
Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables. Stir so they are all coated in flour.
Stir in the beer and stock. Add water if needed until the vegetables are just covered.
Bring to boil then reduce heat to a simmer.
Cook for 1 hour or until the vegetables are tender.
Check the liquid level during the cooking process. The vegetables should be covered at all times. Add more beer, stock or water as needed.
Once cooked, taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed.
Keep warm while you cook the lamb cutlets.

For the Lamb Cutlets
Ingredients
1/4 cup plain flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 eggs
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
6 lamb cutlets, French trimmed
olive oil for shallow frying

Instructions
Mix flour and salt on a plate. Whisk the egg in a small bowl. Place the breadcrumbs on another plate.
Flatten the cutlets between plastic wrap with a meat mallet.
Working with one cutlet at a time, coat cutlet in flour, shaking off excess. Dip in the beaten egg. Dip in the breadcrumbs, pressing firmly to coat. Repeat with remaining cutlets.
Cover and refrigerate until the stew is ready and is being kept warm.
Pour enough oil to cover the base of a large frying pan. Heat over medium heat.
Working in batches, cook the cutlets for 3-5 minutes each side or until they are golden brown and cooked to your liking.
Drain on paper towels before serving.

If you would like to keep the stew vegetarian, substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock.