Inspirations

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

117294240_3343910165667437_4253493204445164399_n

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.

101566850_1008772089537606_4590742725352394383_n

 

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

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

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

A Tale Of A Felted Koala

Since discovering the Pagan wheel of the year over thirty years ago, I’ve celebrated the harvest festival of Halloween (Samhain) on April 30th. I still remember that first, long ago Halloween held in a Victorian forest on a bitterly cold night. After the ritual we warmed ourselves by an open fire. We watched the smoke rise in waves and patterns, trying to scry for messages in the fiery air. As the logs burned, the bright red embers turned to charcoal, making strange shapes as they transformed. We drank, laughed and talked through the night. We told jokes and shared stories until the sun rose and May Day dawned.

This Halloween I would like to share a story of a tiny felted koala, an idea forged during the horrifying Australian bushfires, and created by my dear artist friend Anne Belov as a symbol of comfort, hope and rebirth – perfect symbols for a Halloween tale.

94884334_245779896543157_7566055706218987520_n

 

Many of you know Anne Belov as the creator of The Panda Chronicles. Anne is also a multi-talented professional artist (an incredible painter) who has recently branched out into the field of felted creations. Most of her creations are, not surprisingly, pandas, but in the mix there is a very special critter, Kevin the Koala, or as he is now affectionately known – Kevin the Scorched Koala. Before Kevin was born in felt he was introduced to the world in ink in a very special cartoon in The Panda Chronicles.

010-australia-is-burning

 

Kevin was a huge hit and when Anne toyed with the idea of making a felted version of him we all said “Yes!” When she suggested adding scorch marks to her creation the more diabolical among us said “Hell Yes!” It wasn’t long before Kevin, complete with scorch marks, moved from the world of ink into the world of felt. I’m happy to say that I am the proud caretaker of the very first Kevin the Scorched Koala.

94423282_238682437483626_3381055739253489664_n

 

To honour Kevin’s arrival to his ancestral homeland I created a special recipe that blends some Aussie ingredients (eucalyptus honey and macadamia nuts) with an imaginary cookie bar – the Binky Bar! If you’re a fan of The Panda Chronicles you’ll know that the pandas love eating and drinking and Binky Bars are one of their favourite treats. But what are they? No-one knows as it’s been left to our imaginations to visualise these tasty treats. When a Kevin fan suggested a Kevin Binky Bar would be fun I naturally volunteered to create one. Kevin’s Binky Bars feature a shortbread base topped with a sweet and chocolatey filling.

In honour of Kevin’s adorable scorch marks, I’ve served my Binky Bars with scorched macadamias. Scorched nuts are an Australian and New Zealand name for roasted nuts that are covered in layers of chocolate. Don’t worry if you can’t get them, or any other ingredients, just experiment and have fun. After all, nobody really knows what a Binky Bar looks like – or tastes like. 🙂

Kevin The Scorched Koala’s Honey & Macadamia Binky Bars

94918758_826902891138287_2273430574657961984_n

 

Special Note:
These bars need to set overnight.

Ingredients
for the shortbread base
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
125g unsalted butter, cut into pieces

for the chocolate topping
50g unsalted butter
1/3 cup double cream
1 tablespoon eucalyptus honey*
50g dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
100g Anzac biscuits (cookies), broken into various small and medium sized pieces**
1/3 cup macadamia nuts, chopped into various small and medium sized pieces

Instructions
For the shortbread base:
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a baking pan (approximately 23cm x 17cm / 9” x 7”) with baking paper.
Place the flour, sugar and butter in a food processor.
Process until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Spread mixture into the prepared pan, pressing it down with fingers or the back of a spoon to compress it slightly.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until lightly browned.
Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before adding the topping.

For the chocolate topping:
Heat the butter and cream in a medium sized saucepan over low heat.
Stir in the honey.
Add the chocolate pieces and stir until the chocolate melts.
Allow to cool for a few minutes. (You have to allow it to cool long enough so that the biscuits don’t turn to mush when added, but not too long or the chocolate will set.)
Add the broken biscuits and chopped macadamias to the chocolate mixture and stir until combined.
Spread over the shortbread base.
Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Cut into bars.
Serve with scorched macadamias.

*koalas love eucalyptus but you can use any honey you like or any other syrup such as agave, maple or golden.
**if you can’t find Anzac biscuits you can make your own or use my recipe here!

A Tasting Of Maple

The first full moon of the year, and the decade, fell on a weekend in Melbourne that had surprisingly mild weather for summer. To celebrate, I treated myself to brunch at Stokers Fine Pancakes. I chose a maple syrup tasting platter offering pancakes and three different grades of maple syrup. I couldn’t wait for the tasting to begin!

Maple syrup is made from the sap of maple trees. There are many species but the trees most commonly tapped for sap are sugar maple, red maple or black maple. To tap a maple tree, holes are drilled into the trunk and the sap is collected. The sap is then heated to remove most of the water leaving a concentrated syrup.

The Canadian Single Origin maple syrups on my tasting plate were from the Escuminac Estate. They are bottled on the estate, are unblended and sourced from a single forest. The styles were – Early Harvest, Great Harvest and Late Harvest. I tasted them in that order and was surprised at the differences between the three.

IMG_0308

 

The Early Harvest was the lightest in colour and the sweetest. It was also the most runny. It tasted lovely and was similar to the many maple syrups I have tried, only much better! The Great Harvest was darker and less sweet and also thicker. It was a step above the first and I really liked it. The star, however was the Late Harvest. It was the darkest, thickest and the least sweet of the three. It was so syrupy and had a dark caramel and toffee flavour. I loved it so much I bought a bottle to take home.

You can read about my first visit to Stokers Fine Pancakes, and its predecessor, in We’ll Always Have Stokers. 

You can also check out my recipes for pancakes to pour maple syrup over!
Pumpkin Pancakes
Stout Pancakes
Yeasted Pancakes

A Rosy Midsummer

The Summer Solstice occurs near xmas in Australia, so while I’m getting ready to celebrate the longest day of the year and the shortest night, most of the stores are selling produce geared towards a winter feast day. I don’t mind, as I always look forward to the range of new shortbreads that are only available during xmas.

One of the other winter treats I used to enjoy at Summer Solstice was a Persian fruitcake filled with plump fruits and crunchy nuts and delicately flavoured with rose water. It was one of the most delicious fruitcakes I had ever tried. Every xmas I eagerly waited for the fruitcake’s arrival at the store until one year it wasn’t there and it never returned. That was almost two decades ago.

A few months ago I went for a country drive to Malmsbury Bakery, famous for its homemade Dundee cake. I was keen to try to this Scottish fruitcake as it was rumoured to be a favourite of Mary Queen of Scots. Queen Elizabeth II is also reported to enjoy Dundee cake at teatime. A cake fit for royalty was something I just had to have!

The cake was quite large, but I was assured that once opened, it would keep for months in an airtight container. I wasn’t sure how long it would last but I was happy to take a chance. As I cut a generous slice I noticed how large and plump the glazed cherries were, which immediately brought back memories of my cherished Persian fruitcake. I took a bite and was rewarded with the flavour and texture of one of the best fruitcakes I had ever tasted. This was as good as the Persian fruitcake.

The cake lasted weeks and I enjoyed every slice. With only a few slices left I decided to make a bold experiment. Could I add a rose water element to a slice without ruining it? I had to try. At first I was going to sprinkle rose water over a slice but I decided to make a rose water icing instead. I simply mixed icing (powdered) sugar with rose water until it was thick enough to drizzle and then drizzled it over my slice of fruitcake. While it wasn’t my coveted Persian fruitcake, it was floral and delicious and brought back many happy memories of solstices past.

79724886_2409572129308178_7063230961319673856_n

 

In keeping with the xmas spirit I also dunked a few pieces of shortbread into the rose water icing and then let them set. Happily they were a delicious success as well.

Happy Solstice!

A Quartet Of Chocolates

Recently the culinary world was introduced to a pink chocolate called Ruby Chocolate. It was created by Barry Callebaut, a Belgian-Swiss company, and marketed as the “fourth chocolate” following dark, milk and white. It’s the first new variety of chocolate to be introduced in 80 years. The method of production remains a trade secret but industry suggests that the ruby cocoa beans are unfermented cocoa beans which can have a naturally pinkish colour. There are other things to know about the production method but I lost interest as all I wanted was to get my hands on some pink ruby chocolate!

When I finally got to try some ruby chocolate I was a little disappointed. It didn’t taste much like chocolate. To me it tasted like the yoghurt covered fruit balls I used to eat when I thought I was being healthy. Even though ruby chocolate contains cocoa solids like dark and milk chocolate, it just doesn’t have the taste or feel of chocolate. I didn’t dislike it, but I wouldn’t buy it again expect for creating recipes with a pink theme  – like a naturally pink chocolate frosting for a cupcake. 🙂

But wait there’s more!

Just in time for the holiday season, Barry Callebaut has introduced a new chocolate to the market called Gold Chocolate. While ruby was a new variety of chocolate, gold is a new flavour. The naturally gold coloured chocolate is made by adding caramelised milk and caramelised sugar to white chocolate. A touch of salt is also added. Naturally I couldn’t wait to try it.

San Churro Chocolateria have featured both ruby and gold chocolate on their menus. As a big fan of their churros, I decided to try gold chocolate as a dipping sauce. My platter of churros arrived with four dipping sauces, gold, ruby, dark and milk. I tried each chocolate sauce on its own before beginning a thoughtful dunking process. I began with gold, followed by ruby then milk then dark. The gold chocolate was reminiscent of salted caramel but not as sweet and with a distinct chocolate taste. It felt rich, creamy and decadent. The dipping sauce was garnished with little beads of gold chocolate and these gems were a true delight. I loved it! Surprisingly the ruby chocolate tasted great paired with the fried cinnamon magic that is a churro. The only thing that would have made this a perfect chocolate dipping experience is if there was a bowl of white chocolate. Then I could have enjoyed a pentagram of chocolates. 🙂 

78507589_693890241140270_9102402534911246336_n

A Taste Of Autumn In Spring

The 8th of November is Bram Stoker’s birthday. Stoker was born in autumn in 1847 during the sign of Scorpio. His most famous creation is the gothic novel Dracula. 

Every year I like to celebrate his birthday by doing something special. This year I treated myself to an autumnal breakfast in the heart of spring.

The Coffeeologist is a cafe which recently opened near me. It’s been getting rave reviews so I couldn’t wait to go. The menu looked good and there were a few items I wanted to try. The Red Velvet Hotcakes were tempting as was the selection of sourdough fruit breads, but the winner was the Spiced Brioche. 

IMG_0178 (1)

 

My plate arrived and it looked beautiful. A pool of burnt apple puree supported a thick slice of spiced brioche French toast topped with a rasher of maple bacon, hazelnut cream and scattered with almond granola. I took one bite and thought “This tastes of Autumn!” Memories of Halloweens past and present and ideas for future Halloweens swirled in my mind while my taste buds were blown away by the cacophony of autumnal delights. I can think of no better way to celebrate the birth of the author of Dracula than with a Halloween treat. 🙂

This is my basic recipe for French Toast. Dress it up with a drizzle of maple syrup or go all out and add as many seasonal accompaniments as you like!

French Toast
Ingredients
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
butter or oil for frying
2 slices of bread*
maple syrup
seasonal accompaniments

Instructions
Lightly beat the egg in a bowl.
Add the milk and beat until combined.
Melt a small knob of butter or heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat.
Dip bread slices in the batter.
Place the bread into the frying pan and cook for 2 – 3 minutes or until golden brown.
Turn the slices over and cook the other side until golden brown, adding more butter or oil as needed.
Place on a serving plate and drizzle with maple syrup.
Add whatever seasonal accompaniments you desire.

*I usually use sliced white bread but you can use whatever bread you like.