Food & Drink

Dining With Dracula

November 8th is Bram Stoker’s birthday. Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1847, Bram’s most famous work is his 1897 novel Dracula. It’s one of my favourite books, and not just because it has vampires.

One of the many things I love about Dracula is that is an epistolary novel, meaning it is written as a series of documents. In Dracula, the narrative unfolds through letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, ship logs, telegrams and even translated phonograph recordings. There is no main narrator in Dracula, as many of the characters use the medium of writing to tell their own stories. This allows us to form an intimate connection to them, and offers us insight into the characters they interact with. It also means there are multiple viewpoints and interlacing narratives. Part of the pleasure of reading Dracula is trying to piece together all the different narratives and their timeframes.

The first chapter of the novel is written like a travelogue, as Jonathan Harker writes about his journey from England to Castle Dracula. One of the things Jonathan describes in detail in his journal is the food he has eaten along the way. His descriptions of the exotic dishes, such as paprika hendl, mamaliga and impletata, fascinated me, while his description of robber steak made my mouth water – until I got to the last bit!

“I dined on what they called “robber steak”—bits of bacon, onion, and beef, seasoned with red pepper, and strung on sticks and roasted over the fire, in the simple style of the London cat’s meat!”

Thankfully cat’s meat refers to meat classed as unfit for human consumption which was sold as meat for pets, and not actual cat meat. It was sold by street vendors known as cat’s meat men and women.

To celebrate Bram’s birthday I thought I would share my version of Robber Steak, or as I like to think of it, Robbed Steak, as I’ve robbed it of everything but the beef! Basically it’s my recipe for Beef Skewers. As I’m allergic to the chilli family, which includes paprika and red peppers, I’ve used cumin, cinnamon and white pepper as my spices. Feel free to replace them with paprika. I think Hungarian paprika would be most appropriate. 🙂

Beef Skewers aka Robbed Steak

Special Equipment:
metal skewers or bamboo skewers (if using wooden skewers, pre-soak them for at least 30 minutes to prevent them from burning)

Ingredients
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
500g beef, cut into 2cm cubes
extra virgin olive oil

Ingredients
Make the marinade by placing all the ingredients, except the meat, in a bowl and stir until combined.
Add the meat, making sure it is fully coated in marinade.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight if possible.
Preheat the grill to high.
Thread cubes of beef onto the skewers.
Lightly brush with olive oil.
Grill, turning occasionally, for 10-15 minutes or until cooked to your liking.

The Dracula Tarot

A Duality Of Holidays

Halloween is my favourite time of the year – especially now that Australia has finally gotten into the spirit of things. Halloween candy and decorations compete for shelf space with xmas paraphernalia in stores, making it one of the rare times that I love to go shopping. As I go for walks around my neighbourhood, I’m rapt to see so many houses proudly showcasing ghoulish displays. The signs of Halloween are all around me, but so too are the signs of Beltane, the Spring festival that many southern hemisphere Pagans will be celebrating on October 31st.

On one of my morning walks, I was reminded that Spring is here when I saw an adorable tiger snake on the footpath. I watched, spellbound, and then took photos and video, from a very safe distance! I kept watch as the graceful creature slithered onto the road, making sure it made it safely across. The little snake found a nice place to rest and sun-bake while I continued on my walk. While a snake is a perfect symbol for Halloween, it’s also a perfect symbol for Beltane.

To celebrate northern hemisphere Halloween and southern hemisphere Beltane, I’d like to share a recipe that utilises apples, a fruit appropriate for both festivals. I found this recipe in a cozy mystery novel, appropriately called The Uninvited Corpse, from the Food Blogger Mystery series by Debra Sennefelder. All the recipes included in the book sounded divine, but it was the Cinnamon Apple Bread that had me heading to the kitchen.

The first time I made it I used a sweet red apple. The cake was very sweet and very delicious. The second time I used a green granny smith apple and it was perfect. To add a touch of Halloween to the recipe, I substituted pumpkin pie spice for the cinnamon. Pumpkin pie spice mix is a combination of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and sometimes allspice. I’ve made a few pumpkin pie spice mixes, but my favourite combination is:
4 parts ground cinnamon
2 parts ground ginger
1 part ground cloves
1 part ground nutmeg

Spiced Apple Bread

Ingredients
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice
1 + 1/2 cups flour
1 + 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
125g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 + 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a loaf pan with baking paper. (I used a 22cmx12cm / 9x5inch pan).
Mix together the brown sugar and spice. Set aside.
Sift together the flour and baking powder. Set aside.
Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and white sugar until smooth.
Beat in the eggs one at a time until combined.
Add the vanilla extract and mix until combined.
Mix in half of the flour mix followed by half of the milk and mix until combined.
Repeat with the other half.
Pour half the mixture into prepared pan.
Add half the apple and half the brown sugar. Press lightly into the batter.
Repeat with remaining ingredients.
Bake for 55-65 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to sit in the pan for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Happy Beltane and Happy Halloween!

When Life Gives You Apples

I often find a couple of tart apples hanging around that need to be eaten before they go soft and brown. Finding interesting ways to use these apples has become a fun challenge. I had a couple sitting on the counter the other day and decided it was time to do something with them! After a quick google search, and a few moments of thought, I decided what I really wanted to make was apple pancakes.

Using a simple sweet pancake batter, I added grated apple and pumpkin pie spice. I’m one of those people who loves pumpkin pie spice at any time of the year, but you can use whatever spice you like. You can top your pancakes with syrups, cream or ice cream but I ate them piping hot straight from the frying pan. They were sweet and moist and you could really taste the apple. I had some cold the next day and they tasted like apple pie. The recipe makes about eight pancakes so if there are a few of you, you may want to make a double batch.

Apple Pancakes

Ingredients
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 egg, lightly whisked
1/3 cup milk
2 green cooking apples, peeled and grated
Butter or oil for frying

Instructions
Sift the flour, baking powder, sugar and spice into a bowl and mix until combined.
Whisk in the egg and milk until smooth and combined.
Add the apples and stir until combined. (The batter will be thick like a fritter batter).
Heat a small amount of butter or oil in a frying pan.
Dollop about 1/4 cup of batter into the pan.
Spread out with the back of a spoon.
Cook until bubbles appear on the surface and the bottom is lightly browned.
Turn them over and cook until lightly brown on the bottom.

Baking For The Equinox

Thursday the 23rd is the September Equinox. On the Equinox, the hours of day and night are roughly equal. Following the Equinox, the days will become longer than the nights or the nights longer than the days, depending on where you live. If you live in the northern hemisphere, you’ll be celebrating the Autumn/Fall Equinox so your daylight hours will slowly decrease as nights become longer. For those of us in the southern hemisphere, we are celebrating the Spring Equinox so our hours of daylight will slowly increase and the days become longer as we head towards the Summer Solstice.

After grating too much carrot for a recipe, I decided to use the extra carrot to make something for the Spring Equinox. I’ve always wanted to make carrot cornbread or a cornmeal carrot cake so I decided to play around with some of my cornbread recipes and my previous Easter Bunny Cupcake recipe. With some trepidation I baked my carrot and cornmeal concoction in a loaf pan and hoped for the best. Thankfully the cake turned out to be sweet and moreish – perfect for the Spring Equinox!

Carrot and Cornmeal Cake

Ingredients
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder, sifted
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, room temperature
30g (2 tablespoons) butter, melted
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 cup grated carrot

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a medium sized loaf pan with baking paper.
Mix together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, melted butter and maple syrup.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
Stir in the grated carrot.
Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to rest for 10 minutes.
Remove from pan and place on a wire rack to cool completely.

A Day For Red Pandas And Bamboo

International Red Panda Day was created by the Red Panda Network to promote the red panda and to find ways to fight for its survival. It is celebrated on the third Saturday in September. This year it falls on the 18th of September which is also World Bamboo Day. What a happy coincidence as bamboo is something red pandas love!

World Bamboo Day was created in the hopes it would increase global awareness about the importance of bamboo. The World Bamboo Organization encourages the use of bamboo in a sustainable fashion. They hope to introduce bamboo to new industries across the world and also protect traditional uses within local communities. The World Bamboo Organization is passionate about growing more bamboo around the world and have created the hashtag #PlantBamboo for this year’s celebrations.

Red pandas are all for planting more bamboo because they can’t survive without it. About 95% of their diet consists of bamboo. While the giant panda eats nearly every part of the bamboo, like the woody stem, the red panda is very selective and only eats the more nutritious leaf tips. They also eat tender bamboo shoots when they are available.

Thinking of red pandas enjoying nutritious bamboo tips reminded me of the bamboo leaf tea I bought a while ago. Bamboo tea is becoming popular as it is supposed to boost the immune system. It is good for the skin and can improve bone density. Bamboo tea also promotes healthy nail and hair growth, which may explain why red pandas have such beautiful, thick fur!

Bamboo tea has a subtle flavour, so you may need to experiment to find the right brew for you. I decided to pump up the flavour by using bamboo tea to make a spiced apple tea. This tasty tea can be served hot or enjoyed chilled as an iced tea. You can also make ice cubes with it and pop them into a gin or vodka cocktail. I mean why should pandas be the only ones having fun with bamboo! 🙂

Bamboo and Apple Tea

Ingredients
2 cups bamboo tea brewed to your liking
1 apple
1 cinnamon stick
4 cloves
1 teaspoon brown sugar

Instructions
Strain the tea into a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
Cut the apple into thick slices crosswise so you can see the star shaped core.
Add the apple slices, cinnamon, cloves and sugar to the boiling water.
Simmer for 15 minutes.
Strain and serve with a slice of apple if desired.

A Solace Of Sausage Rolls

One of the things I love doing on the weekends is going for a drive and popping into a bakery for a sausage roll. I have a few favourite places I go, but am always keen to try out new places. Unfortunately we’ve been in lockdown for a while and are restricted in how far we can travel. So if I can’t get to the sausages rolls, the sausage rolls will have to come to me! Thankfully my partner makes a great sausage roll so I spent the weekend indulging in these fresh baked pastries. 🙂

A sausage roll is basically puff pastry rolled around seasoned sausage meat and baked to golden perfection. The beauty of the sausage roll is that there is no exact recipe for what it should contain. You can use all ground pork or a combination of meats, vegetables are optional and seasonings can vary from simple salt and pepper to any combination of sauces, spices or herbs.

The recipe below is really just a guide. You can experiment with what meat, vegetables and spices you like. You can even sprinkle them with sesame or poppy seeds before baking. Sausage rolls are great piping hot from the oven and equally tasty cold the next day. They also make great picnic food.

For those who like a bit of trivia, sausage rolls are a plot device in Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera The Grand Duke; or, The Statutory Duel. Part of the story involves characters eating sausage rolls. I would have loved a starring “roll” in that opera!

Sausage Rolls

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
1/3 cup finely chopped celery
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/8 teaspoon ground aniseed
good crack of black pepper
2 slices of toasted white bread
250g pork mince
250g beef mince
2 sheets of puff pastry, partly thawed
1 egg, beaten

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line two baking trays with baking paper.
Heat the oil in a frying pan.
Add the carrot and celery and fry until soft.
Stir in the salt, caraway seeds, aniseed and pepper.
Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Blend the toasted bread in a food processor until they form breadcrumbs.
Place the pork, beef, vegetable mix and breadcrumbs in a bowl and mix with your hand until combined.
Cut each sheet of pastry into two.
Lay out a rectangle of pastry with the long edge closest to you.
Roll a 1/4 of the meat into a sausage shape and place it along the long edge. Make sure the meat is tightly rolled and that there are no gaps.
Roll the long side of the pastry around the sausage.
Crimp the long side to seal, leaving the shorter edges unsealed.
Place on prepared tray, seal side down.
Cut into three pieces (or four if you prefer smaller).
Repeat with remaining meat and pastry.
Brush with beaten egg.
Bake for 30 minutes or until they are a deep golden brown.

A Blanket Of Winter

This weekend is Imbolc, the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Imbolc heralds the promise of spring, but cold weather is still abundant. The days have occasional bursts of sunlight but the nights are cold and dark.

For me it’s a time of in-betweens. One part of me wants to go out and enjoy the brief rays of sunshine while the other part hasn’t had enough winter down-time. I still want to spend a little bit more time snuggled under my cosy blankets and indulging in warm drinks and comfort foods.

One comfort food I love is potsticker dumplings. These delicious parcels of yumminess are filled with a meat or vegetable filling. They are fried and steamed so the bottoms become crispy as the tops steam, producing a flavour and textual taste sensation.

I recently discovered an interesting twist to the classic recipe where a flour and water mix is added during the cooking process to produce an extra crispy crust. The dumplings are served inverted on the plate so they are covered with the crust which is called a skirt or lace.

For this recipe you can make your own dumplings or use frozen ones. Try not to crowd the pan too much as they will take longer to cook. Having said that, I crammed 15 into my frying pan because I didn’t want to cook them in batches! They did take a while to cook but they were delicious. If you do cook them in batches, just repeat the lace recipe for each batch.

Dumplings with Lace

Ingredients
for the dumplings
About 15 homemade or frozen dumplings
2 tablespoons peanut or other vegetable oil

for the lace
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons flour
pinch of sea salt (optional)

Instructions
Heat oil in a large, lidded, non-stick frying pan.
Place the dumplings close together and fry for 3 – 5 minutes or until golden on the bottom.
While dumplings are frying, make the lace by whisking together the water, flour and salt.
Once dumplings are golden, slowly pour the lace mix into the frying pan. Be careful as it may splatter.
Cover and steam for 5 minutes.
Remove lid and cook for a few more minutes until the water has evaporated and the lace is crisp and golden. Move the pan around to make sure the lace browns evenly.
Cover pan with a plate and carefully flip so the lace is now on top of the dumplings.
Serve dumplings with your favourite dipping sauce on the side.

Midwinter Custard

As the wheel spins towards the winter solstice, I find myself craving the drinks of xmases past. Growing up, spiced eggnog was one of my favourite xmas drinks, especially if it had a good slug of rum or whiskey. Xmas is celebrated in summer down under, so a cool drink was the perfect tonic for the often warm weather typical for December.

As an Aussie Pagan, I celebrate the winter solstice in June, which in Melbourne is usually very cold. While I craved the creamy and boozy pleasures of an eggnog, I wasn’t too keen on sipping a chilled drink.

As I researched warm eggnog recipes, I discovered a drink called Southern Boiled Custard. Despite the name, the custard is not boiled but gently simmered and is usually served chilled like eggnog. While I loved the idea of drinking custard, I was still keen to find a warm drink for the winter solstice. After a bit more research I found a few recipes that suggested serving drinking custard warm!

I’ve added a good splash of bourbon to my recipe, making it a perfect festive drink for midwinter. 🙂

Warm Drinking Custard

Ingredients
2 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of sea salt
2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
60ml bourbon

Instructions
Whisk together the eggs, sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl.
Bring the milk to a simmer in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.
Slowly pour the hot milk mix into the egg mixture, whisking continually.
Pour the mixture back into the saucepan.
Whisk until the custard begins to thicken.
Remove from heat.
Whisk in the vanilla extract and bourbon.
Pour the custard into heatproof glasses or mugs.
(Makes two generous serves.)

A Phantom Voice At The Opera

I haven’t read many Shakespeare plays, but of the ones I have read, Macbeth is my favourite. I love the way Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s lives change after Macbeth meets the three witches and hears their prophecies. The play is filled with so many fabulous speeches and unforgettable moments. Naturally the scenes that bewitch me the most are those with the three witches.

“When shall we three meet again?” ask the witches.
“Whenever Macbeth comes to town!” is my answer.

So when Verdi’s opera Macbeth came to Melbourne recently, I couldn’t wait to get there and meet the three witches again. 🙂

The opera was staged at the historic Her Majesty’s Theatre. Before the show started an announcement was made that Helena Dix, the lead soprano playing Lady Macbeth, had severe sinusitis and couldn’t sing. However, in the grand tradition of the show must go on, she was going to act the role and another soprano would sing her part offstage. While the crowd groaned in disappointment, I was excited. A disembodied voice at the opera? How very Macbeth!

The curtain rose for the first act and I was pleasantly surprised to see not three witches but thirty! The fascinating coven of witches were hypnotic as they sang, spun and wove their way through the scene. Hearing them sing their lines in Italian was appropriately eerie. My eyes occasionally darted to the monitors with English translations, but, not wanting to miss too much of the action happening on stage, I relied on my knowledge of the play to get me through the language barrier.

As much as I love the witches, I was getting excited about Lady Macbeth’s entrance. I couldn’t wait to see a soprano lip-syncing. I was even more excited when I realised I could see the woman singing the role from my seat. My eyes jumped from the miming opera singer on stage to the singing soprano just offstage. In the end, voice or no voice, the power and brilliance of the artist playing Lady Macbeth enthralled me. I soon forgot about lip-syncing as the divine opera performer took me through the tragic journey that is Lady Macbeth’s life. By the time the play ended I was bewitched, not only by the witches, but by the unforgettable performance of an opera singer without a voice.

Ironically, not long after seeing Macbeth I was struck with a severe cold, sinusitis and laryngitis. It made me wonder if the superstitions surrounding Macbeth may have been visited upon me! Unfortunately, it’s something that happens to me occasionally so I wasn’t too worried. When I was young and suffering from a cold or sore throat, my parents would make me a cup of tea with honey, lemon and a good splash of whisky. This drink is similar to a Hot Toddy which is usually made with hot water instead of tea. As a tribute to the witches in Macbeth, I’m making my toddy with Strega Liqueur (witches liqueur) named in honour of the Benevento Witches!

Strega Toddy

Ingredients
1 teaspoon honey
1 cup hot water
30ml (1 oz) Strega
15ml (1/2 oz) whiskey
1 slice of lemon

Instructions
Place the honey in a heatproof glass or mug.
Add the water and stir until the honey is dissolved.
Pour in the Strega and whiskey.
Top with a slice of lemon.
Sip slowly and enjoy its magical properties. 🙂

You can check out my post about another stage production of Macbeth in Shakespeare Under The Stars.

Liquid Kisses

May 26 is World Dracula Day. This is the day that Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula was published in 1897. There are so many brilliant characters in Dracula who, although they do not appear very often, are nonetheless unforgettable. The three vampire women who live in Castle Dracula are such creatures.

The three female vampires are never individually named in Dracula but are collectively called the “weird sisters” or “sisters”. It is Jonathan who calls them the “weird sisters”, a name that links them to the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. They are known as the “Brides of Dracula” in popular culture but that name was never used in the novel. Intriguingly, it is the name “sister” that the female vampires themselves embrace.

After Mina is been bitten by Dracula and slowly starts to turn into a vampire, she travels to Transylvania, where she meets the three female vampires. They recognise her vampiric nature and welcome her into the sisterhood with the words “Come, sister. Come to us. Come! Come!” Another form of sisterhood is the relationship between Mina and Lucy in which Mina describes Lucy as a sister. The nuns that take care of Jonathan when he escapes from Castle Dracula are another important form of collective “sisters” that highlight the importance of sisterhoods in Dracula.

While the vampire sisters are never named, they are certainly described in graphic detail by Jonathan who meets the beguiling vampire trio at Castle Dracula.

“In the moonlight opposite me were three young women, ladies by their dress and manner.”

“Two were dark, and had high aquiline noses, like the Count, and great dark, piercing eyes that seemed to be almost red when contrasted with the pale yellow moon. The other was fair, as fair as can be, with great wavy masses of golden hair and eyes like pale sapphires.”

“All three had brilliant white teeth that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips.”

“I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips.”

The Dracula Tarot

While Johnathan is both seduced and repulsed by the vampire sisters, they only see one thing in him – blood!

“He is young and strong; there are kisses for us all.”

The Dracula Tarot

To celebrate the sisters’ desire for bloody vampire kisses I thought I would make them a Vampire’s Kiss Cocktail.

A Vampire’s Kiss is a delicious drink made with Chambord, vodka and cranberry juice. Chambord is a French liqueur flavoured with red and black raspberries. The colour of the red and black raspberries made me think of the two dark haired sisters and the vodka made me think of the pale sister. The red cranberry juice adds to the bloody colour of the cocktail and is a perfect reflection of the bloody lips and bloody desires of the vampire sisters. While cranberry juice is traditional, I used pomegranate juice as pomegranates are linked to Demeter, Persephone and Hades. There are many references to this myth in Dracula, especially in the name the Demeter, the ship that brings the Count to England.

To make sure we don’t disappoint the vampire sisters by running out of liquid kisses, the amounts below are easy to scale or up or down so you can make a small cocktail for one or a pitcher for a crowd!

Vampire’s Kiss

Vampire’s Kiss

Ingredients
1 part Chambord
2 parts vodka
2 parts pomegranate juice

Instructions
Pour the Chambord and vodka into a chilled glass or jug.
Top with pomegranate juice.