Inspirations

After Easter Eggs

During the lead up to Easter, a recipe for a Cadbury Creme Egg “Scotch Egg” was doing the rounds and the reactions ranged from Yum? to Yuck! When a friend asked me what my take on this twisted treat would be, I put my thinking cap on and did a bit of research.

First step was to check the ingredients in the Creme Egg. Palm oil is an ingredient which was a concern because of its environmental impact, however, Australian Cadbury products are supposed to use palm oil sourced from sustainable producers which is great. The next ingredient that caught my attention was the red/orange food colouring 160c – aka paprika – yes paprika! I am allergic to paprika and all other chillies, so I couldn’t use that egg for my recipe. Undeterred, I decided to use Caramello easter eggs which I know don’t contain paprika. 🙂

My next step was to decide what coating I would use to wrap around my eggs. After some thought I went with a condensed milk and biscuit (cookie) crumb truffle mix. I couldn’t decide whether to add cacao powder into the mix so I made one batch with cacao powder and another one with milk powder. The milk powder mix is drier than the cacao mix which is really sticky, making it slightly challenging but heaps of fun to work with. I can’t decide which one I like best as they are both so tasty!

You can experiment with your own flavour combinations by mixing and matching different flavoured easter eggs such as Turkish delight or peppermint cream. You can also experiment with different toppings such as crushed cookies, sprinkles, grated chocolate, cocoa or cacao powder.

Easter Egg Truffles

Ingredients
125g shortbread cookies
25g cacao powder
25g milk powder
150ml sweetened condensed milk
12 mini caramel filled easter eggs
shredded coconut for topping

Instructions
Crush the shortbreads into fine crumbs in a food processor or by placing in a ziplock bag and smashing with a rolling pin.
Divide the shortbread crumbs evenly into two bowls.
Add cacao powder to one bowl and mix until combined.
Add milk powder to the other bowl and mix until combined.
Add half the condensed milk to the cacao powder mix and stir until combined.
Add the remaining condensed milk to the milk powder mix and stir until combined.
Place coconut in a bowl.
Remove wrapping from the easter eggs.
Place a tablespoon of milk powder mix in your hand, top with an easter egg, then shape the mix around the egg.
Roll in coconut. Repeat until 6 eggs are covered.
Place a tablespoon of cacao powder mix in your hand, top with an easter egg, then shape the mix around the egg.
Roll in coconut.
Repeat until remaining 6 eggs are covered.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
You can serve them straight from the fridge or bring to room temperature if you want a gooey centre.

Stone Soup Song

I recently enjoyed a concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre by Vardos, a three-piece band that performs traditional folk music inspired by their travels through Eastern Europe. The concert I attended was “The Balkan Cookbook” which explored the culinary identity of Eastern Europe through song. During the hour long performance we were taken on a mouthwatering journey through a traditional Eastern European menu. While my body responded to the vibrant music, my mind began concocting recipes for the food and dishes being celebrated. 

The starters began with a song about bacon, followed by a basil song and then one about bread. My stomach rumbled as I pictured a toasted bacon and basil sandwich! The soup course was next followed by mains, side salads, sweets and Turkish coffee. While I do love coffee and a Balkan sweet, it was the soup course that really fired my imagination – especially the tale of the stone soup.

Before launching into song, we were treated to tales about Balkan soups. It may be surprising to learn that Balkan soup courses can sometimes feature fruit soups, which are slightly sweet, usually served hot, but can also be served cold. I’m a big fan of fruit soups and have previously posted recipes for Cherry Soup and Blueberry Soup. The other soup discussed was stone soup – yes stone soup! 

Stone soup is a European folktale about hungry travellers who visit a village. Carrying only a large cooking pot, they ask the villagers if they will share some food with them. The villagers say no. The travellers go to the stream, fill their pot with water, drop a large stone in it and then place it over a fire. One curious villager asks the travellers what they are making. The travellers say it is a tasty “stone soup” which they are happy to share but it could be improved with the addition of a few more ingredients. The curious villager, wanting to try the soup, says they have carrots which they are happy to share with the travellers. One by one the rest of the villagers bring ingredients to add to the soup until the pot really does contain a flavourful soup. The inedible stone is removed and the travellers and the villagers all share the soup. Although the travellers have tricked the villagers, they have taught them the value of sharing and the importance of coming together as a community.

Stone soup begins with a trick so I thought it was the perfect tale to inspire an April Fool’s Day recipe. I chose a mussel soup as it contains mussel shells which reminded me of the stone. Just remember that the shells, like the stone, are inedible so discard them once you have scooped out the tasty mussels. 🙂

Mussel Soup

Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
1 medium red chilli, deseeded* and finely sliced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup white wine
1 lemon, juiced and zested
1kg tomatoes, finely chopped
1/2 cup fish stock
sea salt to taste
pepper to taste
1kg mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1/4 cup basil, roughly chopped

Instructions
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
Add onion and cook until translucent.
Add garlic and chilli and cook for 1 minute.
Add tomato paste and cook for 1 minute.
Add wine and cook for 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes.
Add lemon juice, zest and stock.
Stir until combined.
Increase heat to high and bring the stock to a boil.
Reduce heat to medium and simmer, covered for 10 minutes.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add mussels to stock.
Cover and steam, shaking the pan occasionally, for 3-5 minutes or until the mussels are opened.
Discard any unopened mussels.
Stir through the parsley and basil before serving.

*for a spicier soup, you can leave the seeds in.

An Apple For Autumn

This weekend is the March Equinox. One half of the world springs into Spring while the other half falls into Fall. I’m in the half that is falling into Fall, or as I more often call it – Autumn. I love this time of the year, when day and night are balanced. I love it even more knowing that colder weather is on its way! There are still sunny days ahead but the cooler nights remind us that the seasons are turning.

The Autumn Equinox is the second harvest festival on the Pagan calendar. Grains, fruits and nuts are traditional foods, as are breads, cakes, pies and other baked goods. Beer, cider and mead are great drinks to help wash down hearty Autumn fare while warming drinks such as mulled wines, ciders and piping hot chocolates provide comfort for lengthening nights.

When I think of Autumn, I think of apples and when I think of apples, I think of caramel apples! While holidaying in Las Vegas one Autumn, my best friend and I saw a store window filled with caramel apples. We were both too full to try one, so he took a photo instead. 

photo by Trevor

When I got home, I just had to create a cupcake version of a caramel apple. I think the perfect drink for these sweet apple cupcakes would be a warm mug of spicy mulled apple cider. 🙂

Caramel Apple Cupcakes

Ingredients
for the apple cupcakes
1 cup plain flour, sifted
1/3 cup almond meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
150g (2/3 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg, room temperature
2/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped into small pieces  

for the salted caramel frosting
115g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup double cream
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 – 3 cups icing (powdered) sugar, sifted

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
In a medium sized bowl, mix together the flour, almond meal, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and sea salt. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg. Add the milk and vanilla and beat until combined.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and beat on low speed until just combined.
Fold in the apple pieces.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into paper cases.
Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cupcake comes out clean.
Cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Make the frosting by melting the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Once the butter has melted, turn the heat to medium and add the sugar and cream. Stir continually with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved. Add the salt and allow to cook for 2 minutes, being careful not to burn the caramel. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Place the caramel in a mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer, gradually beat in the powdered sugar until frosting is smooth and reaches a piping consistency. This will take a few minutes of beating to achieve. Spoon frosting into a piping bag and pipe onto cupcakes. 

The Cookie Woman

One of my favourite treats growing up was a visit to the Cookie Man in the Myer department store food hall in Melbourne. The Myer food hall was an adventure all of its own, but it was the Cookie Man that always lured me with its siren smell of freshly baked cookies.

Once lured, I would stare at the colourful and tantalising display of cookies, excitedly trying to work out which ones I would get and how many! I loved slowly picking cookies and watching them drop into the foil bag. My assortment always included Californians (flavoured with cinnamon and topped with a slivered almond) and Coffee Walnut (lightly flavoured with coffee and topped with a walnut half). I loved eating these cookies with a glass of milk or a cup of tea, but that didn’t stop me from opening the bag a few times before I got home. Luckily the bag was resealable!

Thinking about these cookies made me yearn for a cookie that combines the cinnamon flavour of a Californian with the flavours of a Coffee Walnut cookie. I decided to play around with some of my cookie recipes to create my very own Cookie Woman cookies. 🙂

Coffee, Cinnamon & Walnut Cookies
(Makes approximately 18)

Ingredients
1 cup plain flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground coffee (or to taste)
1/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
125g unsalted butter, room temperature 
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, room temperature
approximately 18 walnut halves for topping

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
Mix together the plain flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, coffee and walnuts. Set aside.
In a medium bowl cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. 
Add the egg and beat well. 
Add the dry ingredients and mix until combined.
Drop tablespoons onto prepared trays. (Using a cookie scoop makes it much easier and gives a great shape).
Gently press a walnut half onto the top of the cookie.
Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until the outer edges become slightly darker than the centre of the cookie.
Place on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before serving.

Marmalade And Mayhem

When my 50th Anniversary Edition of Traditional Macedonian Recipes arrived, I couldn’t wait to to see what tasty offerings it contained. I was happy to see some familiar treats like Chicken and Baked Rice (Kokoshka Sus Oris), Egg Custard Banista (Mletchneek) and Lenten Crepes with Garlic Sauce (Posnee Peetoolee Sus Tulchen Luk). These recipes brought back happy memories and took me on a culinary journey through my childhood.

Traditional Macedonian Recipes was originally published in 1969 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada by the St. George’s Macedono-Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church and Ladies’ Section Mara Buneva. I was intrigued by who Mara Buneva was and, after a quick search, I discovered a female revolutionary who is as fascinating and divisive as the Balkans themselves.    

photo from Wikipedia

Mara Buneva was a Macedonian Bulgarian revolutionary. She was born in 1902 in Tetovo which was then a Vilayet of Kosovo in the Ottoman Empire and is now part of North Macedonia. After the Serbian annexation of Tetovo, Buneva moved to Bulgaria. She studied at Sofia University and married a Bulgarian officer. They divorced in 1926. Buneva then joined the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO) in Sofia.

In 1927 she returned to Skopje and opened a store. When members of the Macedonian Youth Secret Revolutionary Organization were arrested and sentenced to long-term imprisonment, IMRO ordered the execution of Serbian official, Velimir Prelić.   

On January 13th, 1928, (ironically Friday the 13th), Mara Buneva assassinated Velimir Prelić. After shooting Prelić, Buneva committed suicide by shooting herself. Prelić died a few days later in hospital. Buneva was buried by Serbian police in an unknown place.

Buneva is viewed by some as a traitor and terrorist while others celebrate her as a heroine and martyr, fighting for the freedom of Macedonia. Attempts to place a commemorative plaque at the place where she died have failed as they are destroyed not long after they are erected. I don’t know if there is one there now, however, there is a wax figure of Buneva in the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle. 

While I’ve only explored the tip of the iceberg in relation to the controversies and legacies surrounding Mara Buneva, it’s a journey I’m eager to pursue. And speaking of icebergs, Buneva Point in Antarctica is named after Mara Buneva.

To celebrate my discovery of another controversial revolutionary woman, I thought I would make one of the cakes from Traditional Macedonian Recipes. To honour Mara Buneva’s deathiversary, I’ve chosen the Marmalade Cake, which is a special Lenten recipe and contains no fats, dairy or eggs. Thankfully it contains lots of flavour! 

Marmalade Cake

Ingredients
1/2 cup oil (I used extra virgin olive oil)
1 cup marmalade
1 cup water
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
zest of 1 orange
2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 20cm (8inch) square baking pan with baking paper.
Mix together the oil, marmalade, water, walnuts and orange peel in a bowl.
Sift in the dry ingredients.
Mix until combined.
Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to cool in the pan for a few minutes before removing and cutting into squares.
Can be eaten warm or cold.

More Cooking By Numbers

Recently I shared a recipe for Curd Cake in a post about a colouring by numbers phone app. I’m happy to say the app has added a few more recipes such as Bruschetta, Chocolate Granola and Cottage Cheese Pancakes!

Today I’ll be sharing my version of the recipe for Lemon Cookies with Olive Oil. These cake-like cookies are perfect for the coming spring weather (southern hemisphere). 

I dunked mine in tea flavoured with honey and lemon but they would also pair well with fresh lemonade/squash, lemon barley water or Limoncello.

Lemon Cookies with Olive Oil

Ingredients
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
2 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2 + 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch salt
icing sugar (optional)

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line 3-4 baking trays with baking paper.
Place the sugar and oil in a bowl.
Using an electric mixer, beat in the eggs one at a time.
Add the lemon juice and zest and beat until combined.
Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt and mix with a wooden spoon until combined.
Dollop spoonfuls of batter onto lined trays.
Bake 15 – 20 minutes or until golden.
Allow to rest for 5 minutes before placing on a rack to cool completely.
Sprinkle with icing sugar if desired.

Additional notes:
The recipe said 3 eggs but I used 2 eggs.
It didn’t specify the amount of lemon juice or zest so I made a judgement call based on how lemony I wanted them.
It didn’t specify the oven temperature so I went with the standard 180C / 350F baking temp.

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.

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! 🙂