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I do like to be beside the sea side

I’ve decided to start aiming to post twice a week – midweek with a photo from my archieves and a mini post.
I took this photo at Bateman’s Bay on the trip home from a girls weekend at the coast. It was a lovely day, we went for a walk and a swim, and then meet up again on the way home for lunch.
Most of the girls had hamburgers, but I wanted to stick to the coastal theme.

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A rainy day in Paris

I just saw Midnight in Paris. Don’t stay and read this, go, watch it. Now.

Midnight in Paris is Woody Allen’s new film. You may remember I talked about how his earlier film, Vicky Christina Barcelona, made me fall in love with Spain just before I went there. So, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of Midnight in Paris, convinced that it would make me fall in love with Paris all over again. It did not disappoint. So it actually has one over the City of Light in that regard, because I remember spending several days bitterly disappointed in Paris itself : in the heat, the dust, the crowds, the lack of romance. But three or four days in I was gradually won over as I was absorbed by the architecture. It’s a beautiful city. But film makes it beautiful in a much less complicated way.

Woody Allen makes Paris stunning; not that the city needs much help, particularly in his opening sequence which is so referential of the opening of Manhattan, with slow lingering shots of a city with glorious, old music underneath, that if he hadn’t directed them both I would call it a homage.  Allen shoots cities so you want to sink into his film, and pairs them with music wonderfully. Of course, to love Allen for his cinematography rather than his biting wit or commentary or smartass fast paced dialogue may get me thrown out of the film enthusiast club, and to love Allen at all makes me a bad feminist, but I love how he makes me love cities. I also enjoy observing his characters, but they are ultimately people I’m glad I don’t know.  Women I don’t think actually exist, particularly in such high concentrations. His content might be stimulation for my brain, but those cities. They feed my soul.

The movie opens and closes with dialogue on the beauty of walking in Paris in the rain. Paris in the rain is beautiful, though a drizzled mist is preferable to a downpour. My last day in Paris started as the former, ended as the later, and is one of my favourite days travelling. I had done the Louvre, stood atop the Arc de Triomphe to see Paris spread out in spokes, cruised the Seine, felt like I was floating in a room of Monet’s water lilies, gotten lost in Montmartre, picked a favourite bridge, and moved from being a little disappointed in the failure of Paris to deliver on two decades of building expectation to utterly enthralled in the city that was. And then the rain arrived, and there was the city of my dreams. On the morning in question I had found the perfect shot of the Eiffel Tower (which looked magical in the forming mist) and visited Notre Dame. There was nothing left to do but walk.

So walk I did. From Jardine des Tuileries, over Pont Alexander III, down the left bank and the quickly shutting green suitcases of booksellers (though they sell more souvenirs than books now). Until across from Notre Dame I realised that I really should eat something. Not a wise choice I’ll admit, it’s never advisable to eat that close to a major landmark, such businesses do not run on an expectation of repeat trade. But the rain had just begun in earnest, and I hoped it would ease off once I had eaten my lunch.

As it was my last day, I built up my courage and ordered Escargot. I did not really want 6 whole snails to myself, I would ideally have liked to share with 6 companions, or at least 1, but early the next morning I was to board the Eurostar, who knew when I would return. The moment needed to be seized. I think eating sails was as much proof to myself that my relationship with food had improved and my fussiness had abated, as it was a desire to engage with the cultural outputs of the country I was in and have quintessential tourist experiences. For all of these reasons I don’t regret eating escargot. In the main I found them… unremarkable. They were difficult to eat, needing to be removed from their shells with complicated utensils and technique. The texture had been described to me as like calamari, which is the best comparison I can think of, but it was chewy in a way calamari isn’t. They were drowning in garlic butter; so much so that I still don’t know what a snail tastes like. But that may not be a bad thing. I am more than willing to concede the restaurant to be at fault here rather than the dish as a rule. The Beef Bourgeon I had next was pleasant but by no means exceptional, and I suspect escargot requires an exceptional restaurant. But I have no desire to eat snails again.

My gamble had not paid off, and if anything the rain was harder than before. But I would not be deterred. I was exploring a city of great romance, and Paris really is beautiful in the rain. Next I headed to the Ile St Louis which lacks the grandeur of the landmarks which had dominated my visit. The Ile is elegant. Contained. It felt very French. Charming architecture, lovely stonework, old buildings, bicycles, and edging the Seine, an avenue of leaves. Despite the rain I stopped for a Berthillon ice-cream, which my guidebook assured me was the best in Paris. It was lovely. A scoop of Fig, and one of Almond. Flavours which felt very European, flavours I would have never chosen in Australia. Flavours in a language I only grasped the edge of, written in gold on green against a hole in the wall, with an old style sign swinging overhead. This was Paris. This is what I had been looking for. Then across the street, a store with my name! Places sharing my name scatter the globe: A Russian Sea; a Hobart Café, but they are few and far between. Simple things excite me. And when travelling everything feel serendipitous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next I headed over to the west bank and Le Marais, the Jewish district.  It was at this moment that I felt a constricting ignorance of history. Here was a place with history, old buildings, cobbled streets; a place with stories. Pre-20th Century aside, any Jewish district in a city occupied by Nazi’s must have stories. But I did not know them; I could not hook my walking and gawping onto them. Visiting an old city, a great city, we have expectations and intertexts we hang our experiences onto and create our impressions from. In essence, that conflict between what the city is today and what we make it with our pre-conceived impressions and obsessions with history, is what Midnight in Paris is all about. But here, is a district I had not heard of till pressed to go and try the falafel, filled with funky young designers starting tiny fashion and jewellery boutiques, I didn’t know who I walked with, had no knowledge of the footsteps I was following. It was, regardless, a lovely district. The falafel was excellent.  Brimming with salads and texture and flavour. Warm and comforting as I scoffed it down under a dripping awning before the store owner hustled me out of their doorway and back into the rain. It made me feel somewhat “cool”. The district may have a history I don’t know, but its present is the safe side of “edgy” and the slightly commercial side of hip. It’s a fun place to take a walk. And if your credit card is sufficiently prepared, I suspect a better place to shop.

By this point the cobblestones were slick, the gutters flowing, and despite my rain jacket the damp had slowly worked up from my trouser cuffs and I was soaked from head to toe. I decided the time for wandering had come to an end, and headed to the Centre Georges Pompidou – the modern art gallery. The time had come to exit the past. To abandon my images of the decadence of Louise XIV’s Court, the angry bread mobs, Victor Hugo, the Paris Commune, The Belle Epoch and Bohemian Montmartre, Monet, Renoir, Simone de Beauvoir and left bank intellectuals, Gertrude Stein, the Resistance, Bogart and Bergman, Breathless, Sabrina… and to pull myself violently (it’s modern art, violent is not necessarily an inappropriate adjective) into the present.

the Eiffel Tower is hiding in the mist in the top left corner

And that’s what I need to do now. I’ve rattled on quite long enough about a lovely day in a lovely city I enjoyed almost 2 years ago. You’ve been very patient and it’s time for the recipe. It’s not French I’m afraid. No snails or falafel in my bag of tricks. It’s movie food. Caramel Popcorn. This recipe is easy to whip up when you’re about to curl on the couch and be transported elsewhere on a rainy day. It’s also good snack food for events. It was a big hit when mum took it to trivia the other week. I make it with ½ the caramel, which is very yum and with half the calories I can convince myself I’m being healthy. But for your decadent enjoyment I’ve listed full quantities below.

Caramel Popcorn

½ cup unpopped popcorn

125g butter

2 tblsp golden syrup

¾ cup of sugar

Follow packet directions to pop popcorn. Place to side.

Place remaining ingredients in a saucepan and stir  over low heat ill dissolved.

Boil uncovered for 5 minutes

Remove from heat

Pour over popped popcorn in a metal bowl.

Stir through quickly before the caramel sets – careful to avoid touching the caramel.

Big Cake Bake

On Friday 14 October Australian Red Cross held the Big Cake Bake to raise funds for their important work. As discussed with Cupcake Day, I’m a sucker for baking themed fundraisers; so I put on my apron and got fundraising. Of course, logistically Big Cake Bake is a bit trickier than cupcakes, which come in user friendly individual serves, but it’s certainly more achievable than Pancake Day. In the spirit of user friendliness however, I did move the event from a Friday to a Monday to allow for joyful fun Sunday afternoon baking, rather than resentful late-night baking. I also chose to keep it simple, ignore dietary requirements and make two super easy cakes that I cut into slices and left in the break room with a tin for donations.

First I tried a recipe for “Apple and Berry cake” (courtesy of Donna Hay, via the testimonial of tv and radio personality Amanda Keller) which had come with the “host” pack Red Cross sent me. This cake was also incredibly easy to make, though the apple layer on top meant it wasn’t as easy to cut and looked a bit mangled once I went at it with a knife. The cake was a big hit; it had virtually disappeared by lunchtime and was well reviewed by co-workers.

Second I made my go to cake when I want results with little effort. If you’re looking for an easy, fluffy yet moist chocolate fix, a last minute cake, or a wet afternoon project with your (or someone else’s) kids, I cannot recommend this recipe highly enough.

It is recorded in mum’s cookbook as “Never Fail Chocolate Cake”.  And with one notable exception when I was knee-high to the kitchen table and tried to ‘surprise’ mum, it never has. I’ve been making this cake my whole life (though mum did the heavy lifting for the first few years till she trusted me with an electric mixer). As such, I always feel just a little like I’m being lazy or defrauding the recipients when I make this cake, especially for birthdays. Which is silly, it was the default birthday cake of my childhood, and I’ve never made it for anyone who was less than thrilled to receive it. It’s actually great for birthdays when you want to decorate the cake, as it works well with coloured icing.

An earlier version of the cake, made for a Pisces themed party.

Pretension aside, sometimes it’s nice to use cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate, flour instead of almond meal, and butter icing instead of ganache.

Never Fail Chocolate Cake

1 cup SR flour

1 cup sugar

3 tblsp butter

2 tblsp cocoa powder

2 eggs

½ cup milk

½ teaspoon vanilla (I always just use a good dash, I like to over use vanilla)

 

Melt Butter

Mix all ingredients together

Add butter and beat for 3-4 min

Bake in a moderate oven 30 min or till a skewer comes out clean.

 

The Chairman and I

I should be cleaning my oven right now. I got up this morning so very excited for a day at home, a long to-do list: eager to use the public holiday to wear myself out to my heart’s content doing house type things today. I immediately committed myself to the most dreaded of chores by putting the cleaning foam on the oven, before heading out to play with my new herb garden. (If a selection of pots on a narrow balcony can be called a garden, but I think they can). The floor is now vacuumed, the bathroom cleaned, all my bills have been paid. Yet I find myself continuing to convince myself that a) leaving the cleaner on to soak just a little longer really will produce superior results and b) the next task on my to-do list is very important and I should really do it while still motivated because I’ve put the foam on and have to clean the oven now, so I can’t get out of it if I leave it till later. Ah logic, never have you let me down in finding excuses to do (or more often, not do) what I don’t want to but know I should.

I’ve been incredibly busy visiting people and places outside of Canberra these last few weekends, and just plan busy during the week.  And being exhausted, I’ve tended to lean towards spending my spare time with my new Community Season 2 DVDs instead of my oven or my keyboard.  So I don’t have any new adventures in cookery to tell you about, and sadly, no recipe to share. What I do have is a wonderful eating experience to tell you about. I’ll admit to being quite nervous to be writing review. I don’t feel particularly qualified, I like to eat, but I’m pretty sure there’s more to judging a restaurant than that.

I went for a most splendid dinner at The Chairman and Yip the other night, a Chinese fusion restaurant with a good reputation and a spot on Gourmet Traveller’s Top Ten for the ACT. We had the banquet, because I wanted to try as many things as possible and that seemed the best way to go. We made the right choice.

I’m not normally a fan of banquets. While I love the abundance of food stuffs they provide, I tend to get sharing anxiety. I worry that I’m taking more than my share; I get irritated because I miss out on something that disappears onto peoples plates too fast,  I end up starving in my attempt to be fair, or stuffed like the little piggy I’m my companions think I am. No such drama’s at the Chairman. Here attentive wait staff move round the table placing your portion on your plate, a dish at a time, telling you what they’re serving. And the portions were perfectly sized – large enough to get a good taste and appreciate the dish, but not too large. By the meals end I felt comfortably full, not hungry, definitely not sick. My companions were also impressed by the option of half glasses of (very nice) wine, which were much more appropriate for a week night when we were all driving.

I don’t have any pictures, because the lighting was quite low, which creates a nice ambience and added a class to decor which flirts with the staples of a suburban Chinese restaurant (lots of red and occasional bamboo) but succeeded at invoking the glamour they often miss. I was particularly impressed with the small hand painted square plates we were eating from, all quite different from each other, all featuring the word Yip. The tables are reasonably close together, but the staff could move around easily, and conversation flowed freely throughout the night with no real awareness of our fellow diners.

We ate, oh, so many lovely things. The duck pancakes were the best I’ve had, and preassembled to provide a perfect balance (I always end up with too much sauce and far too aware of how fatty duck is when assembling myself) with tiny shitake mushrooms adding a really interesting dimension. There was a splendid salad of chilli and salt calamari, and lovely pork cakes, in which the highlight was the crisp tart sensation from the accompanying appleslaw.

Rounding out the starters were fantastic, fabulous grilled mushrooms stuffed with herb and cashew pesto. One dining companion announced her desire to marry the mushrooms, I responded that we’d better move to Utah, cause I wanted to get in on that marriage. But in hindsight I better marry the chef. I want to make those mushrooms, I really do. But I’ve yet to find a pesto recipe that I suspect is even close to what we had. It was really a mix of herbs, not just basil and parsley; I think maybe the star was dill? My palate isn’t trained enough to pick out much beyond yum. I have filled my little balcony with pots of herbs though – so once they look established I’ll get experimenting (and try to figure out how I’ll do the mushrooms in my crazy oven/grill. I really do have a terrible relationship with the oven in this apartment).

The mains saw a parade of taste sensations. The Sesame Encrusted Ocean Trout in Cinnamon Infused Soy was so lovely that I found myself thinking I’d be happy to order it as a main, wanting to go back another time so I could order it as a main. This is high praise because I’m not really a fan of fish at all. I recall that the Spicy Shang-Tung style lamb was amazing, but, I find it was not particularly memorable so I can’t give more of a description. The Portuguese Chicken was fine, but somewhat bland and disappointing in comparison. And the Eye Fillet with shallot and spring onion sauce gave the mushrooms a run for their money for best dish of the night.

Then, to top it off… Sticky Date Mousse! Which was fluffy and airy and topped with crumbled Kalhua dates and just wonderful. It wasn’t as sweet as its pudding inspiration and the dates came through with just a hint at (but not of) bitter. I doubt I could have handled a heavier desert after the bounty I had just consumed, but the mousse made me glad I’d ordered dessert, rather than regretful.

I really enjoyed every dish of the evening, and while is probably too strong a word – especially as we’re dipping our toe into the edges of fine dining where the standards get that much higher – I did find some of the flavour combinations to be nice twists on the known. My tastebuds were working overtime all night to process the new data and the part of me who likes to pretend I’m a bit more than a passable home cook was busy thinking how I could incorporate various elements. And, as I said, I really want to have a go at those mushrooms. And that was the beauty of the meal. It wasn’t necessarily fancy (though it was a bit) or groundbreaking, but while I’m tempted to try my hand at recreating some of the dishes, I don’t have much confidence in my ability to capture all the flavours. Which is what you want when you go out for a meal after all.

puttin’ on the Ritz

It was my turn to host film night last week. Determined to take advantage of the proximity to oven and freezer I will openly admit to going completely overboard: over planning; over thinking; over catering.  Well theoretically over catering. I was sure I would be eating leftovers for a week (I was planning to do so, as I spent most of my week’s food budget on the one meal). However due to a combination of the wondrous appetite increasing powers of good food and my friends knowing me well enough to bring a smaller amount of food and a large amount of wine, almost all the food disappeared! Or maybe I just didn’t make as much as I thought.

We were watching the British Film Noir classic The Third Man and instead of going the obvious (sensible) route of choosing Austrian as a theme (I could have made sachertorte), I instead choose Black and White.  Initially I picked the theme because I was lazy, and it seemed something I could easily pull out some of my go-to recipes for. But quickly my compulsive need to overdo everything (or more sympathetically, my tendency to overreact to others casually mentioned assumptions) took over and I was embracing the theme for its ability to extend to crockery, decoration and dress. Eventually I even designed a soundtrack, though that was less black and white (no Michael Jackson) and more a selection of jazz and show tune greats from the 40-60’s. Lots of Gershwin, lots of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, a sprinkling of Miles Davis.

The beauty of black and white as a theme is that if your serving dishes are anything like mine (white, with variation in texture and shape), there isn’t much need to buy anything, or do much differently. I picked up some black plastic cutlery, cups, serviettes and dessert plates, partially for contrast – mostly because my kitchen is too small to let guests stay and help with the washing up.

So what does one serve when stripping food of all colour? I had initially wanted to use this as an opportunity to test out a recipe for Tuscan Beans. But this soup-like stew would have been too messy for the casual, grazing style of the event – and my recipe called for speck, which is definitely not white. Instead the menu was as follows:

White cheese (goats and brie) and bread

Skewers of feta and olives

 

So good it was mostly gone before I got a chance to take a picture

Gratin Dauphinois – sort of. I should probably call it a potato bake. I got the recipe from the lovely food blog Chocolate and Zucchini. This was the first blog I ever read and still a favourite, though this was my first time trying out a recipe. It’s a lovely recipe which calls for boiling the potatoes in milk before baking, which makes it melt in your mouth creamy, without the sense of overindulgence which can make some potato bakes rather overwhelming.  According to Clotilde, the inclusion of cheese immediately disqualifies a dish from being a Dauphinois, however I have seen recipes elsewhere which call for a light sprinkling of gruyere. And I knew my audience. I don’t think cheese hurt the dish, but as all guests were in agreement that this dish required seconds, if not thirds, I only tried a spoonful and don’t feel qualified to make a judgement.

Rice and black beans – I grabbed this from Jamie Oliver’s 30-Minute Meals. When this cookbook first arrived in my mailbox, I’d been a little disappointed in it. I was really after something that would help me stop eating boxes of shape biscuit for dinner when I got home from work. And this was a book about family meals – mains, sides and desserts cooked at the same time straight from the stovetop to the table. It is not a book aimed at those who eat with House, Don Draper and the gang from Community for company. However,  after seeing just how simple this meal was, I’m tempted to test out some of the meal menu’s next time I have guest over for dinner. Despite the fact I can spend weeks planning, shopping for and pre-preparing for dinner parties, the rules of my inflating ambition and expectations (the more time I have, the more I’ll try to do) mean that I have never once been close to ready when guest walk through the door. But this dish took, as advertised, half an hour; and I could ignore it bubbling on the stove for most of it. Certainly I doubt I’ll ever use this cookbook the way it was designed to be used, but I now feel inclined to give it a second chance and go on a search for individual recipes that look good.

I was particularly interested in the use of cinnamon in a savoury rice dish. Maybe I’ve just been hiding under a rock, but I would never have considered it – and it was fantastic. Jamie’s recipe calls for canned beans, while I choose to use dried beans soaked overnight – consequentially mine turned out black, rather than the lovely contrast of white rice pictured in the cookbook. It also means that it needed to simmer for 10 minutes longer than called for and required more liquid (and while I don’t mind crunchy beans, it could have benefited from longer). I am planning to experiment with cooking the beans prior to adding to the rice. This was a massive hit as well.

Chicken, mushroom, olive and mozzarella  pizza.

Spinach and Feta pizza –The deli round the corner sells lovely pizza bases, so I didn’t make my own. I had initially planned this dish as spinach goes dark when cooked. But I couldn’t bring myself to blanch the baby spinach, so it retained its colour and didn’t quite sit with the theme. My vegetarian guest appreciated it though. And sometimes bending the rules is worth it.

 

Dessert:

Liquorice

Sugar coated almonds – I was super excited when my eyes drifted unwounds while at the cold meats counter and I noticed these at my deli for the first time. Serendipitous, as at another time I’m not sure I’d have given them much thought. My guests were similarly excited. They seem to have special occasion food connotations – and of course they taste divine.

Black grapes – just in season and delicious. Also close to seedless. I’m quite sure that Maggie Beer and the Masterchef Judges have the same feelings about the consumer driven breeding of seedless grapes and its effect on taste they have for the breeding of lean meats – but I really do prefer seedless grapes and I’m so glad that the darker varieties have become available. I’ve said it; I will be thrown out of the foodie club.

Pear crumble – provided by an absolute joy of a friend who didn’t let my reputation for competitiveness and over-catering faze her.

White chocolate and citrus mudcake

Homemade vanilla ice-cream – I don’t have an ice-cream maker. I don’t have a blast freezer. I do have an electric mixer though, which puts me far far ahead of my great Aunt Mary, whose recipe this is. Like almost everything I make, this is time consuming, but simple. I was expecting it to develop ice crystals and made the mistake of making it as last minute as possible – ended up being so last minute I was beating cream as guest arrive.  Using an electric mixer really pushes casual entertaining to the extremes. However, the leftovers have been sitting in a container in my freezer for almost a week now, and they are still crystal free, so I recommend making at this a day in advance.

So partially for copy write reasons, somewhat because I’m just so proud of making my own ice-cream, and largely because this was the only dish I had the time with to take decent photo’s – here is the recipe for vanilla ice-cream.

Aunt Mary’s Ice Cream – 1938

3 cups milk

1 cup cream

3 small teaspoons gelatine

1 cup sugar

Pinch salt

Vanilla

Heat the milk, stir in the gelatine, sugar, salt and vanilla

Put in trays and freeze

Beat the cream until stiff, add the frozen mixture and beat well.

Freeze.

Spanish Reflections

We had Spanish movie night the other week, and as this coincided with Facebook reminding me it’s been two years since I was actually there, drinking Sangria and trying to get the hang of Tapas, I figure that’s as good excuse as any to write about Spain.

I loved Spain, in a way that completely took me by surprise.  When deciding on my itinerary it was a very close call between Spain and Switzerland. I’d never really given Spain much thought. I have always been more Monet than Picasso, Don Quixote had been sitting on my shelf unread for years, and while I loved Pan’s Labyrinth it was not a film that inspired a love of place, or a fascination with history.

Gaudi's fantastic Cathederal

Shortly before takeoff I watched Woody Allen’s amazing Vicky Christina Barcelona, and got genuinely excited, but that was the first time I had heard of, let alone seen Gaudi. And in a way, I suspect that was part of the joy. Spain lacked the pressure of expectation that so burdened my time in Paris. And I was actually in the country when I discovered all the marvellous cultural outputs I loved it for. In particular for me Spain is architecture, just fantastic architecture. Whether in the Moorish influences pre-Crusades in Granada; the grand palaces of Madrid; or the still exciting work Gaudi was doing in Barcelona at the turn of the last century –I loved with the buildings almost everywhere I went. Spain was also modern Art, the Reina Sofia is far and away my favourite modern art museum, I adored it; I particularly loved post cubist landscapes.  And Dali. While I had been so so about Dali in isolation, the Salvador Dali museum provided a saturation of concepts that just amazed me. The museum is worth the trip out to his home town Figueres. Especially if you’re into deconstructions and self-referential-ity the way I am.

The Moorish stronghold and stunning palace - Alhambra

And Spain was food. Kinda. I have a confession. I don’t remember much of the food in Spain. Worse! I didn’t eat much in Spain. Sadly I was still a vegetarian at this point, still converting currency in my head – and completely intimidated by my lack of language.  Despite all these self imposed roadblocks I still ate some amazing food  and drank fantastic drinks. Oh Sangria, how I loved you, how I’ve missed you. And Mojitos. Somehow neither of these drinks are the same in Australia, though I’m willing to admit that maybe it’s just not the same when not drinking in 40 degree heat next to the Mediterranean.

Sadly I don't have a picture of the jug of Sangria we were drinking. But it was good!

It may have been that it was August and we were sweltering, but Spain fundamentally shifted my relationship with ice-cream. I liked it previously, but could easily live without it. In Spain ice-cream became a food group.

I have a vivid memory, one of the moments of my trip I return to time and again, of having just walked down the hill from the Alhambra in Granada to pause for sustenance at this amazing ice-cream shop. The range of flavours on offer were overwhelming, more so given they were all in Spanish. But the elderly man behind the counter looked at us, and then presented each with a taster of the flavour he thought best for them. Everyone loved what he gave to them, though I still have no clue what the flavour he gave to me was. Almond, I think, but with something else.

So back tour film night. It ended up being a small turn out, but the selection of frittata, paella, cured meats and olives was fantastic. Though, I don’t think kangaroo prosciutto is authentic, it sure is yummy.

We watched Volver, staring Penelope Cruz. Very very good. I won’t ruin the plot, but I’m sure all chefs can share her frustrations with a lack of freezer space. It wasn’t a film that made me want to return to Spain, but it did remind me of Spain.

I made chickpeas with chorizo –everyone was very impressed with. I’ve already repeated the recipe. Though the second time I was careful not to get distracted and boil the pan dry!

Luckily I caught the kitchen disaster it as it was happening. So instead of completely ruining my chickpeas – I immediately removed them from heat and drained the pan, just taking those chickpeas that fell off of their own accord, leaving the others stuck to the pan. I lost half the chickpeas but according to all, the completed dish with salvaged chickpeas still tasted fantastic.

As long as you don’t get too relaxed while the chickpeas are cooking, this recipe is very easy, though it requires planning so you can soak the chickpeas.

Those in attendance requested the recipe – So I’ll share it with you too.

Chickpeas with Chorizo

165g dried chickpeas

1 bay leaf

4 cloves

1 cinnamon stick

750ml chicken stock

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 brown onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

Pinch of dried thyme

370g chorizo, chopped

1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley

Put chickpeas in a large bowl, cover with water and soak overnight. Drain well. Place in a large saucepan with bay leaf, cloves, cinnamon stick and stock. Cover completely with water, bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour, or until tender. There should be just a little water left in the saucepan – do not boil dry. Drain and remove the bay leaf, cloves and cinnamon stick.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the onion and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes, or until translucent. Add the garlic and thyme and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Increase the heat to medium high, add the chorizo and cook for 3 minutes.

Add the chickpeas to the frying pan, mix well, then stirring over medium heat for about 4 minutes or until they are heated through. Remove from the heat and mix in the parsley. Taste before seasoning with freshly ground black pepper.

Can be served hot or at room temperature.

Drowning in insecurity and cupcakes

The weather has been gloriously miserable of late, my fridge and freezer are fully stocked, and I just mainlined Season One of Being Human in one hit. Find myself at a bit of a loose end. I should probably take advantage of the temporary break in the rain to go for a walk… So I’m finally out of excuses to avoid making this first blog post.

Not sure why I’m so anxious, obviously I’m among friends, I can’t imagine anyone who doesn’t know me will stumble upon me this early in the day (actually, I can’t imagine anyone who doesn’t know me will stumble across this ever). So lets dispense with the Hi, my name is, I live in,  interests beyond cooking include,  and I’m writing this blog because my job is so much about copying and pasting preapproved words and filling in spreadsheets that I fear that I’m about to forget how to write.  Actually, looking at what I’ve written so far, well, I’ll leave you to judge.

Let’s get straight to the food.

August 15 was (rspca) Cupcake Day! And with a name like that, I didn’t particularly care that I’m rather ambivalent about animals – it was fundraising time!

I made choc cherry cupcakes, strawberry cupcakes, and green tea cupcakes.   I wore my prettiest Mad Man dress and was pretty pleased with myself – my co-workers were pretty pleased with me too. Though I will admit that making 24 green tea  cupcakes may have overestimated the adventurousness of my co-workers palates somewhat. Apparently green tea cupcakes are a bigger hit at Japanese themed movie nights with 20-somethings than in the workplace when other flavours are avaliable– who knew?

I got the choc cherry cupcake recipe out of Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess. This is my go to book. Everything has always turned out right the first time, every time. So I was initially disappointed in the cupcakes – they didn’t behave as I was expected them too. They rose higher than anticipated – and rose up and out flat, rather than high and round like the other cakes did. In other words they made an awful mess and I ruined quite a few of them getting them out of the tin.

Luckily the double batch came in with 36 cupcakes rather than the promised 24 – so I could afford to lose a few – and my housemate and her boyfriend certainly haven’t minded polishing off the discards. That said – these were far and away the most popular on the day – mine looked much more rustic than Nigella’s elegant creations, but they still look pretty darn good.  And its chocolate, do we really care how they look. These are much moister than cupcakes usually are – I want to hypothesis that this is on account of the fact that these were the only recipe to use Self Raising flour rather than to add baking powered, but is likely on account of all the jam. Which is also what I’m also putting the breaking of the Nigella magic down too – she gave quite explicit advice about which cherry jam she prefers, and obviously in Australia that option wasn’t there. In fact, it was difficult to get cherry jam at all – but I suspect these would be quite nice with any sort of fruit that goes with chocolate (which in my book, is all of them).

I actually found the Strawberry cupcakes the easiest to make, and for my money I think they look the best too. These disappeared quite quickly through the morning; I suspect my co-workers could convince themselves that strawberry cupcakes were more appropriate for breakfast. But they did age the quickest as is so often the case with things decorated with fruit. My recipe called for strawberry buttercream, but by the time I was icing these confections it was well past 10pm, so I went for a simpler, and I think more elegant, glaze. Though elegance was really a by product of my laziness.

Strawberry Cupcakes:

2 tbs strawberry jam

30g finely chopped fresh strawberries, plus 12 whole strawberries for garnish

200g baking powder

¼ tsp salt

185g sugar

125g unsalted butter at room temperature

3 large egg whites

½ tsp vanilla essence

4 drops red food colouring

80ml milk

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 180 C. Line a standard 12 muffin pan with paper cases. In a small bowl stir together the jam and chopped strawberries.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, using an electric mixer on medium high speed, beat the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the egg whites, vanilla and red food colouring and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the milk in 2 additions, beating on a low speed until just combined; scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Fold in the strawberry mixture until just combined.

Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups filling each about ¾ full. Bake until lightly golden, about 25 minutes. Let the cupcakes cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Transfer the cupcakes to the wire rack and let cool completely.

Frost with your choice of topping.

I used a cup of icing sugar mixed with just under a tblsp butter, a tbl spn jam, and a dash of boiling water to the right consistency.

p.s. With the help of some lovely co bakers ( Chia cupcakes, Red Velvet and Ginger) we raised $185.