Cookbook Reviews

Wake The Dead Cake

Saturday the 20th of April is Bram Stoker’s 107th deathiversary. To celebrate, I thought I would play around with a recipe from one of my favourite cookbooks – Death Warmed Over by Lisa Rogak. This cookbook is a collection of recipes and customs from different countries and religions around the world with a common theme of death. The recipe I have chosen is an Irish Wake Cake, in honour of Bram who was born in Ireland on the 8th of November, 1847.

Irish Wake Cake

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Ingredients
for the cake
1/2 cup dried currants
1/2 cup mixed peel*
1 + 3/4 cups flour
1 + 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
170g (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
80g (3oz) cream cheese, room temperature
2/3 cup buttermilk

for the glaze
1/2 cup icing (powdered) sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons brewed black tea**

Instructions
Preheat oven to 160C / 325F.
Line a 22cm (9inch) loaf pan with baking paper.
Place the currants and mixed peel in a small bowl.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in another bowl.
Add 1/4 cup of the flour mix to the dried fruit and toss until the fruit is coated in flour.
Place the butter, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl and, using an electric mixer, beat until fluffy.
Add the eggs one a time and beat until combined.
Add the cream cheese and beat until combined.
Add 1/3rd of the flour mixture and 1/3rd of the buttermilk to the batter and mix until combined. Repeat with remaining flour and buttermilk.
Add the dried fruit and mix until combined.
Pour batter into prepared baking pan.
Bake for 1 hour and 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before placing on a wire rack placed over a tray.
Make the glaze by combining the icing sugar and tea together in a bowl.
Drizzle the glaze over the warm cake and allow to cool completely before serving.

*the original recipe just uses currants. I substituted half the currants for mixed peel as I like the flavour and texture.
**the original icing is a lemon icing. I substituted the lemon juice with black tea as I was curious to see how it would taste and used Earl Grey to compliment the citrus notes of the mixed peel.

Autumnal Nights

The Autumn Equinox is here and I’m excited. Even though there still may be hot days ahead, the Autumn Equinox signals a shift in power between day and night. The Equinox is a time of balance, a time when the hours of day and night are relatively equal. After the Autumn Equinox, the long days and short nights will slowly be overtaken by shorter days and longer nights. As a creature of the night, I’m looking forward to a return to the dark half of the year.

One of the things I love doing in cool weather is curling up with a good book. The one I’m reading now is The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook, edited by Kate White. It is a collection of over 100 recipes from mystery writers. Each recipe is accompanied by fascinating facts about the author and their murderous works.

My recipe below is adapted from Margaret Maron’s recipe for Granny Knott’s Baked Toast which is a French toast recipe which gestates overnight before being baked and devoured the next day. I’ve added autumnal gingerbread spices to the recipe and serve it with an optional scoop of ice cream and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Gingerbread French Toast
“An I had but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it to buy gingerbread,” wrote William Shakespeare in Love’s Labour’s Lost. This delicious and warming bread is definitely worth a penny or two.

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Ingredients
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
75g (1/3 cup) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons treacle*
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
brioche loaf**
2 eggs
1 + 1/2 cups milk

for serving
vanilla ice cream (try experimenting with different ice cream flavours)
maple syrup

Instructions
Sprinkle the sugar over the base of a 20cm x 20cm (8 x 8 inch) baking pan.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan.
Add the treacle, ginger, cinnamon and cloves and stir until combined.
Pour into prepared pan.
Cut brioche into enough 1.5cm (1/2 inch) slices to fit snugly into the baking pan.
Place the slices in the pan.
Beat the eggs in a bowl.
Add the milk and beat until combined.
Pour over the bread.
Cover and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
While the oven is warming, remove pan from fridge.
Carefully pour any unabsorbed liquid into a bowl, making sure you don’t disturb the bread.
Spoon over the top of the bread.
Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until the top is browned.
Serve with a dollop of ice cream and a drizzle of maple syrup.

*you can substitute molasses for the treacle.
**you can use any heavy bread like sourdough or wholemeal.

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.

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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 🙂

A World Of Baking

As I was standing in line at the post office, I happened to see a book for sale called Bake: Beautiful baking recipes from around the world by Paragon Books. The heavy hardback was reasonably priced so I bought it. I couldn’t wait to get home and check out the recipes! The book contains so many bakes that I want to try but I just had to make one of the entries in the USA & Canada section – Spring Onion Cornbread! I was very happy with the result. The bread was moist, delicious and very flavoursome. It was great warm but also good the next day sliced with a bit of butter.

Spring Onion Cornbread

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Ingredients
1 cup fine cornmeal
1 cup plain flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground celery seed
1 teaspoon sea salt
55g (2oz) parmesan cheese, freshly grated
2 eggs, beaten
1 + 2/3 cups milk
55g (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted
3 spring onions, chopped

Instructions
Preheat oven to 190C / 375F.
Line a baking pan with baking paper (approximately 28cm x 20cm).
Sift the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, celery seed and salt into a bowl.
Stir in 40g (1.5oz) of the parmesan cheese.
In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, milk and butter.
Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir until combined.
Add the spring onions and mix until combined.
Pour into prepared pan.
Sprinkle with remaining cheese.
Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until firm and golden.
Cut into squares.
Best eaten warm.

Love spring onions? Check out my recipe for Spring Onion Pancakes 🙂
Love cornmeal? Check out my recipes for Hush Puppies, Panda Cam Cuppycakes and Mamaliga 🙂

A Mountain Of Recipes

Some of my earliest and happiest memories from my childhood are of sitting with my mother reading cookbooks and cutting recipes out of magazines. I still love collecting and reading cookbooks and I am constantly trying to find the best way to organise the mounds of recipes from magazines I have accumulated over many years. With all the resources offered on the internet, I now have online recipe files that are bulging at the seams! I sometimes think I will be buried in recipes 🙂

But one of the not so pleasant memories is of mother’s mega-decluttering sessions where she would toss out stuff without you knowing. In one of these sessions she threw out all the cooking books! When I found out, I was devastated. There was one book that I had loved so much and it was gone. The Encyclopedia of European Cooking was published in 1962 – before I was even born. I remember devouring the recipes which were organised by country or region. The recipe that fired my vampiric imagination the most was the Finnish “Blood Pancakes!” Not surprisingly it also turned my stomach!! I mourned the loss of that cookbook and often thought about it when I was researching and creating recipes for my own cookbooks.

Then, decades later, I was reading an article on the history of food in the cooking section of one of our newspapers. It was written by the owner of a shop called Books For Cooks. My mouth dropped open – a bookstore with just cooking books in it!! I had to get there and fast. Luckily it wasn’t too far. The staff were so wonderful and I told them the story of my lost cookbook. Unfortunately I couldn’t remember the title. And to confuse the issue, I was convinced it was a world cuisine cookbook. The staff pointed me to the section where it could be and I slowly and carefully read the spines of the books but I didn’t find it.

Dejected, I went to the European section to look for Romanian or Macedonian cookbooks. As I slowly read the titles one stood out – my hand shook slightly as I grabbed the familiar looking book. Luckily there was a couch near by and I fell into it. Could this be the book? There was only one way to find out. I went to the index and looked up “Blood Pancakes.” I must say I cried a little when I saw the recipe was there. This was the book!! I never thought I would ever see it again and now I had in my hand. I ran to the counter, waving my credit card. I actually hadn’t even looked at the price! Luckily it was really reasonably priced and I hugged it all the way back to the car.

There are so many recipes I can’t wait to try and I’m hoping to share my European cooking adventures with you!

Below is my version of “Imam Bayeldi” or The Imam Swooned, a stuffed eggplant dish simmered in olive oil.  And why did the Imam swoon?

The popular story is that the Imam found the dish so divinely delicious when he tasted it that he nearly nearly fainted from pleasure.

Other versions suggests the Imam nearly fainted at how expensive the dish was to make or at how expensive the ingredients were.

A longer version has the Imam marrying the daughter of a wealthy olive oil merchant. Part of her dowry was 12 jars of the finest olive oil. The Imam asked her to prepare his favourite eggplant dish each evening which she did for twelve nights. On the thirteenth night she told the Imam they had no more olive oil for his eggplant dish. He was so shocked he fainted!

Why don’t you try it and decide for yourself why the Imam Swooned 🙂

Imam Bayeldi

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Ingredients
2 medium eggplants
1 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 green capsicum, seeded and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
sea salt and pepper to taste

Method
Preheat oven to 170C / 325F. 
Wash, dry and cut the stems off the eggplants.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Gently cook the eggplants for 10 minutes turning half way through. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the onions and capsicum to the oil and gently cook for 10 minutes.
Cut the eggplants in half lengthways and being careful not to split the skins, scoop out some of the flesh into a medium sized bowl.
Remove the cooked onions and capsicums from the oil with a slotted spoon and add to the eggplant flesh. Add the garlic, tomato, parsley, cinnamon, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.
Fill the eggplant skins with the mixture.
Place eggplants in a small baking dish and pour over the remaining cooking oil.
Bake for 1 hour.
Serve at room temperature.